Over the past 25 years, BKT has become a household name within the Irish tyre market.

Whether it’s through the long list of Irish manufacturers such as Abbey, HiSpec or McHale or the replacement tyre segment, the Indian tyre brand has established a firm footprint in Ireland which it intends to only make stronger.

One way or another, it has been a journey that would not have been as successful without the forward thinking of Fred Clarke, founder and managing director of Agrigear, based in Bailieborough, Co Cavan. Currently celebrating 40 years in business, Agrigear is the sole importer and distributor of BKT tyres in Ireland, providing a comprehensive range of solutions, ranging from agricultural to industrial, construction, mining, and quarrying applications.

Over these 25 years of partnership, the two companies have forged a long-standing relationship which has had many mutual benefits including the development of new products best suited to the needs of the Irish user – a key aspect for the growth of the BKT brand in Ireland.

In order to mark the milestone, Agrigear recently hosted an event for its dealers and customers. In attendance was Rajiv Poddar, joint managing director of the global tyre giant and Lucia Salmaso, managing director of BKT Europe.

While on Irish soil, or Cavan soil more to the point, we took the opportunity to speak with Poddar to find out more about the company and its future plans.

Do you think we’re at a stage of stabilisation in tyre prices?

“From January to now, tyre prices had been correcting themselves, a lot of manufacturers had passed on the benefit to the end users as well. But with the current scenario, crude going up again and another war being announced as we speak, it’s very difficult to say where prices will end up. We’re back to square one.”

Are similar prices increases to what we’ve witnessed in recent years likely as result?

“I hope not. The impact on raw materials was quite big then and the impact on the freight charges were huge. Now freight has stabilised to what costs were in 2019-20. It would be just speculation to say what might happen.”

Where is the largest market for BKT?

“Right now, Europe is the largest market. Roughly 85% of BKT’s overall revenue comes from within Europe. Within that, 80% comes from western Europe.”

What is the BKT market share in Europe and globally?

“In western European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, UK and Ireland we are above 20% in the agricultural sector. But Europe, as a whole, it would be close to 20%.

“Globally, our market share is about 6%, so that means in theory 94% of the market is available. We are targeting a global market share of 10%.”

From left: Rajiv Poddar, joint managing director of BKT, Lucia Salmaso, managing director of BKT Europe and Fred Clarke, managing director of Agrigear.

What proportion of sales is direct sales to manufacturers, ie John Deere, AGCO, etc, versus the replacement market?

“I would say about 35% of sales is to OE customers internationally. The remaining 65% would be to the replacement market.”

Is there a vision to grow the OE market?

“I think that the OE market will stay between 35% and 40%. We will never exceed that rate, but obviously this will grow on a numbers basis because our plan for 2026 is to have doubled our turnover and production numbers.”

What is the current annual turnover?

“Currently, our turnover is $1.1bn which we are pushing to bring up to $2bn by 2026.

Where do you see the most potential in order to double turnover?

“All of the off-highway segments will help us get there. Within agricultural, sizes are increasing, low pressure tyres (VF) and tyre technology is increasing in popularity.

“We’re geared up for all that. There are geographies also available like the eastern European belt and also outside of Europe. India and North America show great opportunity. ”

Do you think the global uncertainties will hinder this ambition?

“There will always be uncertainty as we get to an era of increased globalisation, uncertainty will spread across geographies and boundaries quicker.

“We cannot sit back, assuming uncertainty will not be there. We’ve got to do our work. We got to plan better. Instead, we need to do all we can under our control.”

Has BKT intentions to explore the automotive tyre market?

“The off highway market is huge and so we want to capture it in totality before looking elsewhere. We want to keep our focus on off-highway tyres. We have gained good experience and do not want to divert our resources, energy and finances elsewhere.”

What have been the main changes in buying habits witnessed within the agri market over the last 10 years?

“The move towards bigger sizes mainly, machines are larger with more horsepower and of course advancements in technologies such as IF and VF. Overall, there has been a demand for a higher quality product.

Are recycled tyres used within the new tyre manufacturing process or are there any future plans for this in order to increase sustainability?

“While some manufacturers have gone to crumb rubber, this is not something we will pursue.

“What we’re trying to do is look at green forms of raw materials. So we are working along with a US firm to develop dandelion rubber as it has a lower impact on the environment.

“We are also working with manufacturers closely on developing synthetic oil-based components. We don’t want to compromise on raw material.

“We will avoid using the scrap material in our product but move to greener sources of raw materials instead.”

What percentage of agri tyre production is VF?

“It is growing year on year but it’s currently between 15% and 20%. People are moving away from IF to VF given its load carrying abilities at speed.”

Where do you see the tyre of 10 years’ time?

Larger sizes and lower inflation pressure for sure. I think these are the two big things and then EV ready. But, by and large, it will remain black and have a hole in it!

What is the annual production capacity?

“Current production capacity is 1.3m radial tyres or 300,000t.”

Are BKT looking at moving into the area of central tyre inflation systems (CTIS)?

“At the moment, we are not. Right now, we are entirely focused on tyres.”

Has entering the track market been a success?

“It’s still in the trial phase. The requests have been good, particularly on the OE side and bigger sizes. There has been a lot of interest and we are doing a lot of joint development.”

What have been the biggest advancements for BKT in the last 10 years?

“We have put a lot of emphasis in our manufacturing sites and on automation to increase consistency in our product.

“A lot of emphasis has been put on green initiative’s surrounding raw materials and manufacturing to reduce our carbon footprint.

“We haven’t reached the end of it, but it’s an ongoing journey. Within the next 10 years, our aim is to be closer to carbon neutral.”