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Expo interview: Stephan Koehne
Stephan Koehne, managing director, TS TestingService GmbH, gives his views on the new tire labelling legislation
What was your career path to the position you currently hold?
After completing my PhD in mechanical engineering, I worked at Uniroyal (already part of the Continental group back then), where I ended up leading the global test rig operations. After 10 years with Continental, I used my knowledge of tire testing methodologies to set up my own business – TS TestingService.
Could you give us a brief profile of your company?
A large part of our range is tire testing machines for implementing the forthcoming EU labeling directive. We mainly build test rigs for the three key areas – fuel efficiency, wet grip, and tire noise testing – but are equally capable of producing machines for the subsidiary testing areas such as ‘behavior under winter conditions’. We currently have 30 employees and an annual turnover of around €6 million, but we are expanding rapidly, in line with our policy of constant innovation and development. Many of our competitors still sell technology from 20 or 30 years ago as standard, whereas we are keen to improve our products.
Do you think the new labeling regulations are geared more toward the consumer or the environment?
The regulations are geared toward CO2 reduction in general and should therefore benefit consumers and the environment alike. The real challenge here is rolling resistance – to reduce this further without compromising, say, wet grip or durability is a tall order. The targets are so ambitious that even the major brands will have to pull their socks up and take a fresh look at their compound technologies.
EC directives can be notoriously lacking in practical relevance. Is labeling in its current form an adequate tool?
[Laughs] The regulations aren’t 100% clear – at least not to me! There are several aspects that will have to be reworked. For example, you can’t just measure one or two tires of an entire tire family to get your benchmarks, as the differences between individual tires within the same range can be huge, even in such basic terms as dimensions and profile.
A second question mark is over quality assurance – or the lack of it. If you look at the fuel efficiency goals, even the big players will be hard pressed to achieve consistent quality levels.
What’s going to be the biggest development in tire testing over the next five years?
The roll-out of tire labeling across the globe. I expect almost everyone to eventually adopt the current EU guidelines, especially in India and the rest of Asia. The big manufacturers won’t be able to afford to implement a labeling system and restrict it to Europe. There are no two ways about it – labeling after the EU model will prevail around the world, be it in terms of air conditioning units, fridges, or tires, and the main tire producers will sooner or later label their entire product range everywhere.
What are your plans for the future?
We’ll keep expanding our portfolio of test rigs. It’s a market with great potential for growth, especially with Asia’s rapidly expanding car industry. As people’s mobility rises, so will demand for tires, and consequently, regulation. In Japan, labeling has been in force for a year. The USA is also working toward implementing tire labeling, but the timeline is not yet clear