Bad Year – Good Times

I am so tired of hearing bad news. As such, a visit to Goodyear’s factory in the Eastern Cape last month came as a breath of fresh air. I am not trying to be an ostrich. I know that sticking my head in the sand won’t rescue the market or change the fact that business is tough – really, really tough.

But I also don’t think that it’s healthy to weep, wail and gnash our teeth 24 hours a day. Yes, I know that the vehicle market collapsed and then nose-dived into oblivion last month, but it will bounce back. We plan to hang in there until that happens. Many other businesses have adopted the same strategy. Some companies have chosen to be even more optimistic, making massive investments during this challenging time.

Goodyear is one such company. I didn’t visit Port Elizabeth specifically to tour the factory, which has been churning out tyres since 1915; I was there to experience three new tyres (more about them next month). However, the company did invite me to tour the Uitenhage plant while I was in the ‘Friendly City’ – and it turned out to be an extremely positive experience. Irrespective of which section of the plant I was in, I heard about multimillion rand investments, and it was patently obvious that much of the equipment was brand new.

This was confirmed by the newly appointed managing director of Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Holdings, Jean-Jacques Wiroth. Speaking at the launch of the three new tyres – the Duramax G22, DuraGrip and Wrangler AT/SA – Wiroth said the products confirmed Goodyear’s perception among consumers as a “fastpaced innovator in the industry” and also reinforced the company’s commitment to the southern Africa region.

“This region is regarded as an important and rather independent hub in the Goodyear world. We are investing not only in our Uitenhage plant to produce these products via new machinery, new moulds and various continuous improvement projects, but also in our people and distribution channels through continuous training and development. Goodyear has made a R70-million investment in its plant this year alone,” he confirmed.

Now I am no tyre boffin, but I am sure that the process of producing tyres hasn’t changed that much since the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was formed in 1898 (as an aside, it was apparently named after a gentleman called Charles Goodyear, who had died penniless 30 years earlier despite his discovery of vulcanisation after “a long and courageous search”). The procedure certainly hasn’t changed dramatically in recent years – as I understand it, the process starts off with the mixing of the raw materials.

This is much like mixing all the ingredients in a cake (except, in the case of tyres, the ingredients are natural and synthetic rubber, carbon black, sulphur and chemicals). The tread is extruded, the plies are woven, the beads are made, the tyres are constructed and then the green tyre is vulcanised (or, in simple English, baked).

Bearing this in mind, I am pretty sure that Goodyear would have been able to produce tyres with its old equipment. Sure, maybe productivity wouldn’t have been as good; maybe quality could have suffered; maybe the tyres would not have been particularly advanced. But the company chose to invest – and I think that’s pretty good news worth celebrating. It certainly brightened up my otherwise gloomy month.

Do you have any other positive news to share with our readers? If so, please email me at CLARIFICATION REGARDING IMPERIAL In the March 2009 issue of FOCUS we mentioned the closure of Commercial Vehicle Holdings, a division of Imperial Holdings, without clarifying the fact that Imperial Holdings had retained its commercial dealerships under the banner of Imperial Commercials. Like Goodyear’s investment, this network of dealerships is undoubtedly good news – because it means excellent back-up support and after-sales service.

We apologise to our readers for this ambiguity and would like to draw your attention to the full story behind Imperial Commercials on page 45.

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