Run-flats rule the tire industry's psyche today. All the major companies have one, and everyone is banking on consumers wanting them. Like the radial, the all-season tire and the AquaTred, their time has come. Except for one not-so-small problem. Auto makers aren't embracing run-flats. And that could retard the development of the market.
It's a truism of the tire industry:*To be successful, you have to get your products on new cars. Even if they sell tires below cost—it happens—the big tire manufacturers want original equipment contracts.
That's because it's generally accepted when tires wear out, a consumer replaces them with the same brand. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule—most notably Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.—but typically for big volume aftermarket sales, you've got to be an OE supplier.
That's where run-flats diverge from the norm.
Auto companies certainly are aware of—and interested in—the run-flat craze. But the Big 3 U.S. auto companies remain unconvinced the current crop of run-flat designs from Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone/Firestone offer significant enough mobility and safety advantages to offset the rolling resistance and cost disadvantages.
The tires are heavy, and even if they replace the spare and jack, it's pretty much a wash in the weight department.
Instead, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are evaluating more advanced tire-wheel run-flat systems, with a three-year to five-year timetable before introduction.
The bottom line: Tire makers are taking a big risk by counting on consumer demand in the replacement market to drag OE customers into the run-flat revolution.