Why tubeless tyres arent on a roll

New Delhi, Jan 26 | Updated: Jan 27 2005, 05:30am hrs
The wheel has turned full circle, but it has not brought about a revolution. Tubeless tyres, which have been around since the 1950s, were not adopted in India till the late 1990s, when car makers started rolling out their premium models fitted with tubeless tyres.

They became the flavour of the season - being the latest technology - never mind that our neighbours have been running on these for over a decade now. Latest technology or not, it is generally accepted that tubeless tyres are superior to tube tyres, and more importantly, safer. Their low rolling resistance contributes to lower fuel consumption and you are able to drive on for 100 km or so in case of a puncture.

But today tubeless tyres, despite retailing at the same price, account for only around 10% of total passenger vehicle tyre sales. JK Tyres said tubeless tyres made up 15% of overall segment sales while Ceat claimed that only 4% of overall passenger car tyre sales was accounted for by tubeless tyres. Other tyremakers, while refusing to disclose company sales figures, reiterated that the tubeless segment was around 10% of overall sales.

While OEM rollouts are few and for high-end models, tyremakers offer a wide variety of tyres across all segments starting from the Maruti-800. Car makers cite the absence of adequate repair infrastructure and road infrastructure as the reasons for not having tubeless tyres in all models. Since the premium end models sell mostly in the cities, there are enough repair facilities available. The same cannot be said for the semi-urban and rural areas, says the spokesperson of a leading car maker. Yet another reason is that it is preferable to mount sturdier alloy wheels for tubeless tyres, which add to the cost of the vehicle.

Our product planning department is studying the market. We have to consider several factors like customer demand, cost etc before adopting this feature in the lower-end segments, a Hyundai spokesperson said.

A severe jerk from the numerous potholes on Indian roads can dent the rim and lead to air leakage. For repairing a puncture, it is imperative to use automatic tyre-changing machines for mounting or demounting tubeless tyres on the rim. Using traditional methods of hammer and chisel can damage the rim and results in air leakage - so your local puncturewallah is not quite equipped to do the job.

According to some tyremakers, this has led to a situation where people have started fitting tubes inside tubeless tyres. But at the same time, some B segment car owners, especially those in the metros, are also retrofitting their vehicles with tubeless tyres, he added.

Still, with road infrastructure improving and repair facilities increasing, tyremakers are betting on a 20% annual growth in this segment. An outlook evident enough from the launch of Acelere, Apollos range of tubeless tyre, as recently as in October 2004.