Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Green Mobility Lanxess Promotes 'Green Tire' Initiatives to Make Cars More Fuel-Efficient

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Green Mobility Lanxess Promotes 'Green Tire' Initiatives to Make Cars More Fuel-Efficient

Article excerpt

German-based Lanxess made the biggest investment in its history this year -- more than $500 million -- in a cutting-edge facility in Singapore where it produces synthetic rubber that will be marketed primarily to automotive tire makers.

The new plant is a key component of the company's "green mobility" strategy through which Lanxess hopes to convince automakers and their suppliers that the rubber it sells for tires and the plastics it makes for other car parts will add up to safer and more fuel efficient vehicles.

Still, Flemming Bjoernslev, Lanxess' North American president and chief executive based in Findlay, readily acknowledges tires can be a tough, high-priced investment for consumers -- even those anxious to support more green and sustainable products.

So when Lanxess' global sales dropped by 12 percent in the second quarter that ended in June, Mr. Bjoernslev linked the decline at least in part to tight consumer spending in an economy that's still emerging from the recession.

"The American tire industry is in a position that we're not selling as much to it as we'd like to," he said in an interview this week at Lanxess' North American headquarters in the RIDC office park off the Parkway West.

Lanxess counts among its customers at least five top tire manufacturers, though he declined to name them.

Despite the company's disappointing second quarter -- which he also blamed on persistent weak economic conditions in Europe and the recent slowdown in China -- Mr. Bjoernslev said Lanxess remains bullish on how green tires and other products will help pump up its revenues once the global economy settles into recovery.

To that end, Lanxess will pitch its message directly to the auto industry on Aug. 27 when its hosts car makers and their suppliers for a day-long conference in Detroit.

"It's about reaching out to our future customers and to help us understand the needs of our customers' customers," said Mr. Bjoernslev.

Among the speakers: engineering and technical experts from auto giants Ford Motor and BMW; auto parts maker Magna; and a NASA Space Shuttle commander who will talk about "adventurous innovation."

Lanxess held its first such event for the auto industry last year in Charlotte, N.C., where it introduced its green tire prototype that passed high-level testing in Germany and garnered high industry ratings.

But don't look for the company to become the next Michelin.

"We don't want to manufacture tires," said Mr. Bjoernslev. "But it showed the world what can be done with our product."

As much as 15 percent of a tank of gas is used to overcome tires' resistance to the road, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. So tires that stay inflated longer with better pressure can lower resistance and in turn reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

That's become a concern of manufacturers and consumers as governments impose or step up requirements on the auto industry to make vehicles safer and better for the environment. …

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