How did you end up in the tire industry? Were you interested in cars from an early age?
Like any Italian, I had developed love for cars, racing and F1 since childhood. This interest has grown in me, prompting me to take up mechanical engineering and eventually working in the automotive industry.
I have been in the automotive industry for over 20 years– most of it being spent in the tyre business.
However, I did not immediately join the sector as I had initially worked in the aluminium industry while in Glasgow, Scotland. My journey in the field started when I received a call from Pirelli, which was a dream job for any Italian mechanical engineer. I joined the team of a small number of young talented individuals working on the supply chain of the production division. This was where I started my career in the tyre industry – in the logistics division of Pirelli.
What learnings have you brought from your previous roles to this particular role? How is this market different from other markets that you have dealt with in the past?
My long years of experience in the industry stems from having been able to work across the whole value chain of the tyre business—staring from logistics and supply chain division. Over the years, I was able to learn from other divisions as well, including distribution, product & marketing, pricing, sales, and IT.
Additionally, I also had the opportunity to work in other geographical markets, including the northern and eastern parts of Europe for about seven years. These lessons allowed me to gain key insight on the differences and similarities of how these markets respond to the industry.
For instance, comparing the Middle East market to eastern Europe, I see a lot of similarities from 10 years ago, in terms of how that market has evolved and developed. My insight on this tells me that all markets are moving towards the same goal, in terms of setup, supply chain, channel, trading, etc. The difference is just the time and phases they are taking place.
Being here in the Middle East and having had my perspectives from Europe, it is like coming from the future of the tyre industry. Although, I can see that changes are taking place here at a faster rate as the Middle East is very dynamic in trying new innovations, and is immediately responding to new offerings. The market picks up so quickly, there is instant feedback which allows us to refine the product immediately and meet the demand. It is important to be agile and bold in this market to maintain a good market position.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the main topic of conversation wherever we go. How has the pandemic affected the tire industry as a whole and Bridgestone in particular?
Like any other industry connected to consumer demand, the tyre industry has been affected. Most cars are parked now nearly for a month, and I can speak for myself, but the situation is the same for most people anywhere in the world. The demand for tyres has definitely gone down as people are not buying cars or not using them. This has resulted in an impact to the tyres business. Having said this, I speculate that the demand shall return as we also expect more cars to be on the road soon as an after effect of the need to socially distance ourselves.
How has the pandemic affected production at Bridgestone’s factories across the globe?
In response to business and consumer needs and in the spirit of keeping the safety of our workers and consumers in mind, Bridgestone EMIA has decided to slow down some production across its manufacturing network. There are plans to suspend operations as well in 11 plants in Japan.
However, production has resumed in all other plants located in Spain (Burgos, Bilbao and Puente San Miguel) and Russia (Ulyanovsk), while the passenger tyre plant in Bari (Italy) and retreading facility in Lanklaar (Belgium) are looking forward to restart later this month. Meanwhile, the production facilities in Poland (Poznan and Stargard) and Hungary (Tatabanya) have remained operational throughout this period, but running at reduced capacity.
The restart plans are indicative of the demand trend in Bridgestone EMIA’s market segments, including OEM passenger tyres and the commercial sector – which have been less affected by the business slowdown as a result of the reduction of people’s mobility due to COVID-19.
Bridgestone EMIA continues to engage with customers and suppliers to ensure adequate supply, while closely monitoring fluctuation in demand.
How has this affected the supply chain and logistics with regard to sourcing raw materials and distribution of finished products?
When the outbreak happened, Bridgestone has responded quickly by reviewing its priorities to ensure business continuity and delivery to our partners and customers, primarily addressing the distribution of tyres to the priority markets. This involved a lot of efforts for our logistics team which had to find alternative routes and availability of containers.
At the same time, our global network has been very helpful in situations like this where the company was able to reallocate production across our factories, not just based on the factory capacity but also container and shipment capacity. As a result, it has been a seamless process and has secured the continuity of the supply chain.
Do you think that demand for cars and thus tires would bounce back to the levels it was before the outbreak? What learnings has this experience given Bridgestone?
We are anticipating a good come back, especially that people will continue to practice some level of social distancing and once the lock downs have been lifted, there will be more people preferring to drive their own vehicles.
I am confident that the business will bounce back as road mobility will remain an essential aspect of human interaction, and will continue to rely on vehicles to move around. However, we also look into the growth of new ways of engaging with customers where online business, including mobile services, will be increasingly important and will have more acceptability, including selling and buying tyres.
What are some of your best-selling tires in this market in the case of passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles?
The products we sell in this region are customized to meet the specific needs of this market to achieve optimum performance. They are all studied, designed, engineered and developed for the region, and along with that within the MEA, we also manufacture tyres specifically for each country to meet the local demand in terms of consumer needs, road conditions, and temperature. Tyres we develop for Egypt will be different to what we develop for the UAE. This is our distinct advantage as we have some iconic products that are making history in the region and creating a strong legacy and reputation.
Some of our most popular brands are the Turanza T005, which is a top-seller for its comfort and luxury features. Potenza S007A is our best choice for ultra-sport performance tires while for economy and fuel-saving features, Ecopia EP150.
For SUVs, we have one of our top performers on-road is the Alenza 001 while Dueler H/T 684 which is best for on-road and off-road travels. Meanwhile the Dueler A/T001 is known for its durability especially for off-road travels. There is really no single ideal tyre because we have a diverse range of options that meet various needs and applications.
For commercial tyres, some of the more popular ones are the G548 and R248 Super.
G548 is a brand of tyre for trucks by Bridgestone and this has become a household name for truck owners when they ask for truck tyres. This reflects the strong following and popularity of the brand among users in this region.
However, for markets such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we have the G580 HD – which exemplifies that our solutions are according to the needs of the location.
How important is the commercial vehicles market in this region and what are some of the firm’s most key partnerships when it comes to fleet customers?
The commercial vehicle market has a significant role in the economic chain especially in the region where many goods are transported through roads. We have been leading the market when it comes to truck and light trucks and have secured key partnerships with some of the important players in the sector such as Aldrees, AlMarai, Emirates Transport, Gulfar, and Bin Darwish.
Our Bridgestone Fleet Solution concept has been providing professional consultancy and customized solution packages to fleet owners helping them reduce operations cost while optimizing efficiency.
How important is customer service in the tire industry at the retail level? What initiatives has Bridgestone taken in this regard?
In any consumer-driven industry, customer service is very important, even more with tyres. Customers are looking for a seamless journey when it comes to availing the products and services associated with tyres. They look for convenience and fulfilling experience and thus, all these factors must be considered when providing the products and services.
We have introduced many new developments offering highly satisfying consumer experience to mee the unique demands of our customers. Retail has been continuously evolving to match these needs. One of the key retail concepts we have been offering our customers is enabling them to order services at the convenience of wherever they are – from tyre change to car servicing – without the need to visit the service centre.
As customer service is a part of our DNA, we offer them superior quality products that have been tried and tested, and not just the product, but the overall solutions, the connected tyres and the service.
First Stop, our tyre and auto-care retail chain, provide these services including oil change, minor car detailing, car wash, and most recently full car sanitization. Among these services, we ensure that every customer’s visit is worth their time by optimising their presence in the service center and avail of other service offerings such as checking of brakes, oil change, among other services.
What new innovations has Bridgestone developed in terms of tire design and technology? Can you explain in more detail about the airless tire that was launched at the 2020 CES show?
Bridgestone has always been a visionary and has kept ahead of the competition by bringing here today the tyres of tomorrow. The strategic design for future tyres incorporate high durability, aerodynamics, resource efficiency, and sustainability.
We have a wide range of innovation that include digital solutions as well as smart technologies. Our digital solutions and applications support drivers and fleets in their current needs with maximum efficiency, sustainability and convenience.
Airless tyres are not entirely a new technology. However, it is becoming more popular now with the development of autonomous vehicles and robotaxis. The concept has been in Bridgestone’s research and development program since 2013 when we unveiled the first air-free concept for tiny, smart-car sized vehicles. It aims to address common problems for drivers of having to pull to the side of the road to fix flat tyres. It also contributes to reducing CO2 emissions and more recently, this development is being tested for bicycle tyres.
As autonomous driving increasingly becomes a trend, it will boost the demand for puncture-resistant tyres. Traditional cars are only used 20 per cent of the time and 80 per cent parked during the day. However, autonomous vehicles are predicted to be the other way around and thus, it is exposed to risks of flat tyres, thereby preventing this breakdown will be a priority for owners.
Airless tyres from Bridgestone combine a tyre’s tread and wheel into one durable, high-strength structure. This design eliminates the need for tyres to be filled and maintained with air, and essentially erases the dangers and downtime associated with a flat tyre.
“Connected” technology seems to be really popular at the moment. Has Bridgestone developed any “smart” tires in this age of 5G and how are such tires of benefit to the average motorist?
Bridgestone has always been committed to innovation and the latest digital technology developments are in line with our vision for the tyres industry. Indeed, these changes are bringing a lot of excitement for the automotive industry as most of them serve to enhance mobility of people and vehicles, especially with connectivity.
As a tyre manufacturer, we have been looking at these developments and how we can develop products that serve today’s demand for speed and efficiency. We see tyres will not remain just a point of contact between the vehicle and the road, but it will also collect data. Controller of vehicles will gain real-time insights which can help them optimize performance, safety, increase durability and save fuel. Data becomes the fuel for mobility.
Bridgestone’s mobility solutions play on four key themes including data collection, data platforms, data analysis, and user interface. Data collection involves telematics, RFiD, sensors and 3D for tyre measurement. Data platforms are also being explored for security, privacy issues, data storage, computing, and API. In terms of analysis, we look into the value added of AI and machine learning, digital twin model, and visualization, while in use interface, we are developing the software, web interface, and mobile applications.
We work through these technologies to develop advanced tyres that meet high sustainability standards. In terms of production and operations, the digital twin system supports us in reducing use of time and resources which then reflects a positive impact on the environment. For customers, we are employing the digital garage concept to enable them to interact with us and help them find the right products and solutions.
In addition, we have tapped the Internet of Things (IoT) to develop the Smart Strain Sensor technology. It is the latest solution which tracks tyre inflation pressure and temperature as well as measure the ongoing change in strain that occurs when the tyre is in use, giving us predictive data about the wearing of the tyre. We look to explore this field where the vehicle managers better understand if there is any incoming danger to the vehicle and avoid accident and unfortunate incidents, as well as the level of maintenance needed by cars. All these data can serve in developing new services that would enhance the overall driving experience of users.
According to Bloomberg, 57 percent of all passenger vehicle sales and over 30 per cent of the global passenger vehicle fleet will be electric by 2040. Can you explain a bit more about products that you have developed for electric cars like Enliten?
Electric cars are definitely driving forward towards the mainstream in the automotive industry and it goes along well with the connected technology era. Enliten is a new innovative lightweight tyre technology that could change the game in the tyres industry and fits well with the electric vehicle trend. It has an unparalleled reduction in material and rolling resistance performance.
Moreover, it is a sustainably-made product designed to contribute to global efforts towards CO2 emissions reduction from road vehicles. Enliten reduces the rolling resistance of a passenger tyre by about 20 per cent from a standard premium summer touring tyre. This enables tyres with embedded Enliten technology to help reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in combustion vehicles, while also extending battery life and vehicle range in electric vehicles.
Enliten is a breakthrough technology which Bridgestone has brought to the market to adapt to the new norms. This technology enables Bridgestone to reduce the weight of passenger tires by about 10 per cent compared to a standard premium summer touring tire. As a result, we use less raw materials in the production while also giving the tyre a lower rolling resistance. It is tested for its safety and impact on wearing. In fact, it adds driving comfort to drivers because of the ease in handling and stability it adds to the vehicle.
Sustainability seems to be the need of the hour. In addition to tires for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, what other steps has Bridgestone taken in this regard like for example with regard to tire recycling or retreading?
Sustainability is at the heart of Bridgestone’s commitment and responsibility and this has been embedded in every aspect of the business, ensuring that all efforts complement with our motto of ‘Our Way to Serve.’ Enliten was one of our major steps forward to achieving sustainability in the industry while we continue to work towards our long-term environmental vision where our products are made from raw materials that are fully renewable and sustainable by 2050 and beyond.
Climate change and the limits to natural resources are two main areas of concern for the automotive industry. In Europe, the European Parliament has put stringent measures for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to ensure vehicles’ emissions of CO2 are reduced. In this light, Bridgestone capitalizes on its strengths and competencies to add value to products and services through innovation and cutting-edge technology, and meet these social and environmental needs.
We have made progress in various aspects such as reducing raw material consumption, recycling resources, and using them effectively within the company or in collaboration with other companies. We are also exploring on diversifying our energy resources to renewables.
We are also keen to pursue circular economy and are currently assessing how our products would fit in this new paradigm. Some of these efforts are implemented globally and include the following:
Bridgestone is now seeking to reposition itself as a mobility services provider rather than as a tire manufacturer. What exactly does this mean, especially for customers in the Middle East?
Change is a continuing movement and we have come to a point in our journey of almost 90 years along with the mission of ‘serving society with superior quality’. As needs change, we look into them and see how we can contribute and strengthen our commitment to our customers, to the people, the communities, and the planet.
In this light, we feel that as a mobility services provider, we will be able to meet not just customers’ needs for products but also for a holistic experience of the whole journey. Our investments and acquisitions in new business models and in technologies are geared towards serving these emerging needs.
Bridgestone’s business in the EMIA region has rapidly caught up with these trends as we see how quick consumers in this part of the world adopt to new technologies. We have expanded to become modern chemists, engineers, data scientists, and digital experts known to operate some of the region’s most advanced factories and cutting-edge technology.
What is the outlook in the short-term and the long-term for Bridgestone and the tire industry in general in this market?
For the short-term, Bridgestone is focused on enhancing staff performance and business growth as we seek to increase our market share. We are also looking at all our current initiatives and activities are serving our long term goals. We intend to continue engaging with our customers to endure we provide quality services and improve our commitment with them.
For the long term, we are continuing our efforts to advance technology uses and ensure better safety for motorists through sustained awareness campaigns on tyres use.
Looking to 2050 and beyond, we are committed to maintain the company’s ‘Dan-Totsu’ or being the leader in the industry, which means we are focused on being part in building a healthy future for the people and the planet.
We hope to achieve using 100 per cent sustainable materials and implement business operations that contribute to ecological balance from this period onwards.
What do you like best about working for Bridgestone?
Bridgestone has made a great influence in my career and has allowed me to grow within a culture that fully shares my values in many aspects, including ethics and striving for excellence. I have always seen my growth and the company’s to be especially important in achieving short- and long-term goals. I am able to use my abilities and learnings to keep exploring and enhance my role in securing long term success for the company, while also achieving the short-term goals. Bridgestone is a company that continues to open new opportunities and a workplace where we can develop long term growth strategy.
If there is one thing you would like to tell our readers, what is it?
Exciting times are ahead for the tyre industry and I can say this from my experience of more than 20 years. Still, I feel optimistic and enthusiastic about what can come next for the automotive sector with the emergence of newer technologies and innovations.
Tyres are evolving from just being the element of contact to becoming a key part of mobility of the future – data collection, evolution in electric, autonomous. I look forward to disruptive technologies taking helm in the sector and tyres will remain a key element in the future of mobility. R&D are pushing the limits and we have not seen yet that limit, so there is a lot of new developments that would come out in the near future in the lines mobility solutions and I am confident that Bridgestone will be a key instrument to bring about these changes.
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