Leading figures in the tire industry see a clear trend toward low-rolling-resistance tires, not only in Europe but globally as well. What's more, this will hardly be possible without improved high-performance solution styrene-butadiene rubber grades (SSBR) as well as Nd-PBR (Neodymium based Performance Butadiene Rubber). So the sector is increasingly looking to work together with highly specialized synthetic rubber manufacturers. These are two of the most important results of an extensive study about the SSBR market performed on behalf of specialty chemicals company and synthetic rubber pioneer LANXESS by Stratley Portfolio Performance Incorporated, an acclaimed consulting company particularly experienced in the chemicals and precursors segment. The paper features findings based on the opinions of decision-makers from the marketing and development departments of 32 tire manufacturers from around the world that make up some 84 percent of global tire sales.
Experts have long been saying that the introduction of tire labeling across Europe in 2012 would completely change the tire sector. “It seems paradoxical but cheap tires made only of conventional types of rubber have simply become too expensive for cost and environmentally conscious consumers,” says Joachim Grub, head of the LANXESS Performance Butadiene Rubbers business unit. Rising fuel prices are among the main reasons for this. Investments in tires that consume less energy because they are made from modern synthetic rubber pay off increasingly quickly. Automotive producers too have long been in favor of “green” fuel-saving tires to further minimize the fuel requirements of their products. Other important aspects that persuade the discerning consumer to purchase high-performance tires or “Green Tires” are their long service life and better safety properties, which can be raised to a high level through the use by the manufacturer of special-purpose rubber from LANXESS. “The tire sector already entered a new materials era some years ago,” says Grub.
One question that remained open until now was to what extent the increased attention to detail on the part of the customer would impact the demand for SSBR – which is, alongside Nd-PBR (Neodymium based Performance Butadiene Rubber), the second high-performance rubber that experts consider to be essential for the (further) development of economical, safe, long-lasting tires. Are the available grades sufficient for enabling tires to achieve top marks in all the relevant disciplines? How will suppliers in the emerging markets react to the change in situation? How do marketing experts view the supply situation with the key rubber SSBR?
The SSBR marketing study that LANXESS now possesses provides answers to these questions. It is based on the evaluation of in-depth questionnaires from and extensive face-to-face interviews with more than 70 tire experts in more than 20 countries around the world. In total, the Stratley experts commissioned by LANXESS have assessed the opinions of 32 tire manufacturers with combined sales of around US$ 130 billion (corresponding to around 84 percent of the global tire market). These included all the top 20 suppliers in the industry.
Their findings give a surprisingly consistent picture of the sector as a whole: 85 percent of all tire companies questioned expect the new EU regulation to significantly impact their daily business, with most seeing this as an opportunity rather than a burden. In high-performance tires, SSBR – particularly in combination with silica fillers – is expressly considered by many to be an absolute must. Having performed detailed market studies, the authors of the study believe that in a few years SSBR will have significantly overtaken conventional emulsion-styrene-butadiene rubber (ESBR) – in five years' time twice as much SSBR will be used in car tires as ESBR. 85 percent of the experts surveyed see the supply situation as being somewhat critical, however.
A significant role in the assessment of SSBR high-performance-elastomers is played not only by the improved performance of the products manufactured from them but also by questions of processability. The global tire industry experts are extremely interested in how the SSBR grades currently available will continue to develop. The supply of ever better green tires will be largely dependent on the provision of increasingly refined SSBR grades. The sector is therefore very much in favor of working closely with raw material manufacturers such as LANXESS.
“The data and assessments that we are presenting in their fullness for the first time will not only help our customers adapt to the change in the market, they are also a valuable tool allowing us to adapt to the needs of our customers even more effectively,” adds Joachim Grub. As a pioneer in synthetic rubber, LANXESS has expertise in SSBR chemistry and production technology that is unique worldwide: the majority of SSBR grades provided as samples in recent years and the in-house rubber testing expertise that we recently expanded significantly once again proves that R&D at LANXESS continues to be given top priority. “With the experience in synthetic rubber we have gathered over the past century we are the ideal partner for an industry whose commercial success will increasingly depend on know-how. We deliberately focus on processing aspects too,” says Grub. “Our most recent investments in debottlenecking our SSBR and Nd-PBR-production plants in Europe, Brazil and the United States and increasing their flexibility – along with the building of our 140 kt Nd-PBR facility in Singapore – show that we want to maintain our reputation as a reliable supplier of high-performance special-purpose rubber for the tire industry.”
Tire labeling key driver
Demand for “Green Tires” is being driven by the introduction of tire labeling around the world.
November 2012 saw the launch of mandatory tire labeling in the European Union (EU). Tires are graded from A to G according to their fuel efficiency and wet grip. Rolling noise is also measured. Therefore, the new legislation provides more transparency for consumers by highlighting the added value of “Green Tires”.
Japan and South Korea were the first countries in the world to introduce a label system. After a voluntary tire label was introduced in Japan in January 2010, South Korea launched its voluntary labeling in November 2011 and introduces a mandatory label in December 2012. Other countries like Brazil, the USA and China are expected to follow in the coming years.
“Green Tires” can reach their peak performance with formulations containing both Nd-PBR and SSBR. Nd-PBR is used in the treads and sidewalls of “Green Tires”. It helps reduce the rolling resistance and increase the fuel efficiency of a tire. Nd-PBR is highly resistant to abrasion and plays a significant role in making tires safer and, above all, more durable. SSBR is mainly used in the tread compound of “Green Tires”, where it helps to reduce rolling resistance and improve grip on wet roads.
LANXESS is a leading specialty chemicals company with sales of EUR 8.8 billion in 2011 and currently around 17,100 employees in 31 countries. The company is currently represented at 49 production sites worldwide. The core business of LANXESS is the development, manufacturing and marketing of plastics, rubber, intermediates and specialty chemicals. LANXESS is a member of the leading sustainable indices Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) World and FTSE4Good.