China suppliers of tire pressure gauges are ramping up production and exports in step with growing fuel efficiency and driver safety concerns in key markets.
While mature technology-wise, the line has just recently started drawing attention as a basic tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It helps in doing so simply by preventing underinflation, which could increase the tire's rolling resistance and in turn require the use of more fuel.
Companies anticipate even greater uptake as car repair and maintenance shops in the US state of California will be required to conduct tire pressure checks on all incoming vehicles starting July 2010. Safety organizations NHTSA and NTSB are also calling for proper tire inflation, raising buyer awareness further.
To match rising demand, many suppliers are investing in additional production lines. One of these is Ningbo Waywell International Co. Ltd, which plans to boost output by 20 percent in 2010.
Export strategies, meanwhile, are anchored on aggressive marketing and R&D.
To reach out to buyers in North America and the EU, suppliers are spending more on promotional activities. Most intend to venture into online advertising or attend several trade shows.
With product development, the emphasis is on user friendliness. Models, for one, are being made lighter through the adoption of ABS rather than PVC.
Companies also hope to attract orders by taking functionality up a notch. Several of the latest releases, in fact, incorporate a hammerhead, LED flashlight tip, seat belt cutter, compass, tread depth gauge and bleeder valve. In addition, some units are capable of delivering voice readouts in English or Spanish.
Appearance upgrades abound as well, most of which revolve around the use of brighter colors and ergonomic contours in designs.
On the whole, China manufactures more than 50 million tire pressure gauges each year. Half of output is shipped abroad, with North America and the EU absorbing over 75 percent.
Products & prices
|Products & prices|
Mechanical models dominate China's tire pressure gauge line, accounting for 70 percent of output. Digital versions are nonetheless gaining ground because of high demand in the promotional segment.
The categories are fairly similar in terms of measuring range. Most units are calibrated from 0 to 100 or 200psi, 0.05 to 9.95 bar, 0.05 to 9.95kg/sqcm and 25 to 995kPa. Readings are precise within 0.5psi, 0.05 bar, 0.05kg/sqcm and 5kPa. Inaccuracy ratings are between 0.5 and 1 percent.
Design-wise, mechanical gauges are often available in a pencil style or with a dial face.
The head and body are made of aluminum, zinc or stainless steel, among other metal variants. ABS is used for the two- or four-sided indicator bar.
Depending largely on the material, models go for $0.30 to $6.
Because of the inclusion of electronic features, digital units are more expensive. Prices generally start at $2 but can reach up to $8.
Designs are equipped with an LCD readout that shows the real-time condition of each tire. Measurements can be displayed in psi, bar, kg/sqcm and kPa. An LED backlight is added for easy operation at nighttime.
Models typically have at least one or two extra functions, with compasses and flashlight tips among the popular choices. Newer versions can come with up to eight add-ons.
Auto shut-off mechanisms for minimizing energy consumption are common as well. Power source options include AAA and button cell batteries.
ABS is utilized for the housings, which usually weigh less than 100g. The sensor chipsets are procured from domestic or Taiwan suppliers.
China's tire pressure gauge industry has fewer than 100 makers, nearly all of which are local enterprises.
Operations are usually based in Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shandong and Fujian provinces, and Shanghai. Most companies engage in mixed production, offering automotive tools and electronic devices as well.
Suppliers of mechanical gauges perform the bulk of manufacturing processes in-house, including molding. Counterparts in the digital segment have facilities for PCB subassembly.
SMEs dominate the line, with midsize businesses capable of turning out more than 100,000 units per month. Among large players, monthly capacity exceeds 1 million units.
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