The Rubber Manufacturers Association is undergoing the most radical change in its near century of existence, and yet it's hardly changing at all.
Maybe accepting reality is a more-accurate description of what is happening.
On Oct. 1, the RMA officially will sever ties with the non-tire member companies of the organization. The creation of the Association of Rubber Product Manufacturers, essentially the Elastomer Products Group of the RMA, means the RMA will represent only tire manufacturers.
As RMA President Charles A. Cannon put it in an interview for a story in this issue, the organization has been mainly tire-oriented since its founding.
A student of history, Cannon relates how the big American tire companies founded the RMA, and the group added non-tire members until it reached 340 companies. But Cannon states the rubber industry has, in effect, been continuously consolidating since the 1920s, and that resulted in a falloff in RMA members.
He's entirely right. The number of rubber companies has fallen—often in streaks during economic downturns—since those early days. That also means the potential number of manufacturers that might be in the RMA fold has been on a downward spiral for years.
The fact is, the RMA is and has been mainly a tire company association. The tire makers footed most of the bills, so it makes sense that the group served the tire manufacturers first. One important ramification of the change to the “New RMA” is the need to be even more careful to avoid the appearance of anticompetitive practices by its members.
The marine hose and especially the huge synthetic rubber and rubber chemical sector price-fixing scandals tainted the reputation of the rubber industry. Indeed, a price-fixing incident just erupted in South Africa, and for years U.S. tire manufacturers were investigated—and never charged—by the Justice Department.
The RMA is the Washington watchdog for the tire manufacturers. But with just a few members who represent most of the U.S. tire market, you can be sure the group and the companies will be under close scrutiny themselves.