In the last issue of Retreading Business we reported on some of the investments currently being made at the Spanish retreader Insa Turbo. However, Insa’s strategy to increase sales of its retread products is only half the story, and in this issue we wanted to focus on the parent company, Grupo Soledad, and how the family-owned operation has evolved from its original status as a tyre distributor and retreader to its current position as a multi-faceted group of companies, which remains a major player in the tyre and rubber sector, but which successfully leverages its position at the heart of the Circular Economy.
Grupo Soledad Success with Diversification
The Group’s success serves as an excellent example of how retreaders can guarantee a successful future through an intelligent strategy of diversification.
Today Grupo Soledad, whose headquarters are in Elche, near Alicante has a turnover of 350 million Euros and employs 1,100 people across its various businesses, which in addition to its original businesses of tyre distribution and retreading, now includes rubber compounding, engineering, tyre recycling and fleet services as well as more diverse businesses such as an IT Consultancy, an insurance company, a travel agency, a construction company and an almond plantation.
Today, the Group’s position as a retreader and recycler is effectively supported by its tyre distribution arm, which makes up Southern Europe’s largest tyre distribution business. The Group operates four different segmented retail networks, Confort Auto, Black Tire, Ecological Drive and FixCar. The first of these, Confort Auto, is the Group’s premium network, consisting of 700 outlets, which focuses on Hankook as its key brand, and which operates the Group’s online sales business. Black Tire, consisting of around 1,000 outlets, is a midrange network boasting Nexen as its key brand. Ecological Tyre is a niche network of 50 outlets developed to promote Insa Turbo retreads, whilst FixCar (120 outlets) is specifically targeted at car dealers.
The vast majority of these outlets are independently owned outlets, but the Group does own 80 stores of its own and is aiming to increase this to 100 in the near future. Around 30 stores within the Group’s networks operate as specialist truck service centres, promoting Hankook, Sailun and Kelly branded new tyres as well as Insa Turbo’s own mould cure retreads as well as Vipal precure retreads manufactured in Insa’s own factory.
This brings us onto Insa Turbo’s retread manufacturing plant at Aspe, which over the years has developed into much more than a retread facility. Fuelled by the company’s own biomass plant, the Aspe site houses several related recycling businesses, which process the thousands of tonnes of End-of-Life tyres which flow through the company’s gates.
Firstly, there is the company’s well-established retread plant, which currently produces 200,000 passenger retreads per year, 180,000 4x4 tyres, 50,000 truck retreads (evenly split between mould cure and precure) and 20,000 other tyres including agricultural and OTR retreads. Like all companies who have been involved in passenger retreading, production used to be much higher, but in 2000, when it became clear that managing a tyre recycling business that only did retreads was unsustainable, the company decided to expand into other recycling activities, whilst constantly looking for other ways to increase retread sales
An example of this is the company’s current arrangement with Continental. All Continental’s casings come into the site at Aspe. Some go to Conti’s retread plant in Stöcken, Germany, whilst others are used to manufacture ContiTread precure retreads. According to Grupo Soledad’s International Commercial Director Salvador Pérez Lucena, Insa Turbo will be looking to double the production of Contitread retreads in 2020.
The second major business operating out of the Aspe site is the Group’s casing and used tyre operation, BuyCasings, which sorts retreadable casings for Insa Turbo’s own plant and other retreaders, as well as used tyres for key overseas markets such as the USA.
The company currently has 40 employees sorting tyres at the Aspe site, but according to Salvador Perez, one of the Group’s key priorities is now to significantly improve the efficiency of the process.
“We are currently working with IDS in the area of robotics to automise the collecting, sorting and inspection of the tyres that come into the site,” said Perez. “Automising this process will take maybe three years, but our aim is to create the most modern layout for a tyre sorting facility in the tyre industry. We ultimately want to sort 14,000 tyres a day automatically.”
The third key business located at Aspe is a granulation facility, which granulates truck tyres into a range of products marketed under the brand name Solodegoma. Car tyres are processed into TDF at six additional facilities located elsewhere in Spain. The Solodegoma range includes rubber granules resins, EPDM and encapsulated SBR for export to key markets such as the Caribbean, the USA and North Africa. The company’s 0.5mm to 2.5mm granulate is certified by Labosport for sports surfaces.
Away from the Aspe site, Grupo Soledad also operates two rubber compounding companies Caucho Industrial Verdú and Mezclas Caucho. Verdú, acquired in 2011 specialises in rubber compounds for civil engineering applications, such as elastomeric bearings and joints for bridges and tunnels, whilst 90% of Mezclas Caucho’s business is focused on retreading compounds, although the company also produces technical compounds and compounds for the shoe manufacturing industry. Nearly half of the retread compound is consumed by Insa Turbo, but the company also sells to a number of key retreader partners around Europe such as UBO, Fedima, Mesas and Bolcase. The company also develops Alphatread compound for Hankook, has a co-operation to produce tread rubber for Vipal, and has carried out a project with the EU regarding sidewall resistance on bus tyres.
Mezclas Caucho currently produces 16,000 tonnes of compound per annum and has invested 3 million Euros over the last three years in equipment (including a new Banbury) and in a new laboratory. According to Salvador Perez Lucena, the current priorities of Mezclas Caucho are to optimise efficiencies in the plant as well as to expand business in the shoe and technical compound sectors.
Last but not least, Grupo Soledad’s most recent acquisition, finalised at the start of 2019, is the Malaga based engineering company, Tallants Navarro, which produces blades and spares as well as engineering services, and which offers the Group the potential to expand into the recycling machinery sector. According to Perez, the current priority is to consolidate the new acquisition before expanding into overseas markets during 2020.