Nov. 30, 2009 – A California issue going nationwide

SPARKS, Nev. — Aftermarket companies are coming up with alternatives to a common service department tool that is being outlawed in California and in other states down the road.
That tool — the lead wheel weight — can no longer be manufactured, sold or installed in California starting Jan. 1.
One of the aftermarket companies working on providing an alternative to lead weights, which are used to balance tires, is K&L Supply, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based manufacturer. K&L Supply was one of dozens of companies that were on hand for LeMans Corp.’s Holiday Showcase, a dealer show held at the company’s newest U.S. warehouse that opened just two years ago.
The upcoming disappearance of lead wheel weights, which is tied to environmental concerns, will not only be a California issue. Both Maine and Washington states have enacted similar laws that will take effect in 2011 and legislation dealing with the topic has popped up — although not been enacted — in other parts of the nation.
Although there is no federal law prohibiting lead wheel weights, there is a federal initiative that is geared toward doing exactly that. The initiative has been developed by federal agencies and states as well as wheel weight and tire manufacturers and retailers. That diverse group includes a division of Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
At issue is what happens when lead weights fall off vehicles. Government reports say such weights can be washed into storm sewers or end up in waterways. The effort to reduce the amount of lead released into the environment has become an international issue as the lead devices were banned by the European Union in 2005 and are being phased out in Japan and South Korea, according to government reports. In the United States, the movement to ban the lead weights has been driven by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
How will the California law affect dealerships, and hence how could dealers in other states be impacted in years to come?
Joseph Lopez, a research and design supervisor for K&L Supply, said his company has developed an alternative to the stick-on lead weights that in fact may be cheaper than the original product. However, that solution figures to mean more inventory for the service department.
K&L Supply has developed a steel stick-on wheel weight that will not be priced much different than the lead version, Lopez said. “It was shocking to find out that pricing is going to be very, very similar,” he said.
However, the steel version can not be cut like the lead weights, meaning to properly balance tires dealers will probably have to purchase two sizes of steel weights rather than just the one size they usually purchased for the lead weights.
Lopez said K&L Supply also is looking at other metal materials, including zinc and tin, as possible lead alternatives down the road.
An official with the California state department that is overseeing the new lead weights legislation, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, noted a key requirement for the new law. It does require dealers to use wheel weights that do not contain lead. However, the new law does not require a dealer to replace the leaded wheel weights for a vehicle coming in for a service that is not tire or wheel-related.

New to the industry

A company known primarily for CB radios and household electronics has entered the powersports industry with a helmet-to-helmet communication system.
The company is Midland Radio Corp., which has been producing electronics for U.S. consumers for more than 50 years.
Midland Radio signed a distribution agreement with Parts Unlimited earlier this summer to sell its Bluetooth Intercom Systems, said Ron Dowd, the company’s national sales manager, who was on hand for the Holiday Showcase in Reno.
Dowd said the helmet-to-helmet system debuted in Europe a little more than two years ago. “We wanted to see how the product worked, to see if there were any issues we needed to fix before we brought it to the States,” Dowd said of the BT system.
Minor adjustments were made, including adding a longer-life battery, and the company started showing the product in the United States earlier this year.
The system allows riders to connect wirelessly with different Bluetooth devices, including cell phones, MP3 players and GPS units. All of these devices are controlled by an intercom unit that can be placed on a helmet.
Besides the on-road motorcycle market, Midland Radio Corp. is also suggesting the product can be used for off-road segments, including ATVs and snowmobiling.
Midland Radio Corp. is a worldwide company that has affiliates in several countries, including Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom. psb

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