Mr. Liu, an Urumqi cargo truck driver, happened to see a mini-truck on the side of a road that was shipping six or seven tires, all looking new. With four tires worn out on his truck, Liu was just about to buy some new ones. He went up to the little truck and asked about the prices. Eight hundred yuan each, a young guy said. Thinking there shouldn’t be a problem after a peek at the nicely packaged tires, Liu bargained a bit and got four for 2,800 yuan.
But when he was changing the “new” tires at an auto shop he often visits while having a lunch break, the shop owner told him the bad news: the tires were bad, even for refurbished ones. Cotton fillings were found lining the tires. Liu hailed a taxi to return to where he bought the tires, only to find that nobody was there any more.
Liu is but one of many unwitting victims of an industry that has boomed in recent years in Xinjiang, where the number of retired tires tops China’s annual stock of 120 million a year. Xinjiang is the largest province in the country by size and is known for its harsh desert terrain.
Along both sides of the first mile along the Urumqi-Changji road, hundreds of old-tire shops or collectors line the streets and retired tires pile up like mountains in the backyards. Their sizes range from 50-cm in diameter to 2 meters.
Profits for these mostly private businesses have been outrageous. For example, at a shop whose owner refused to identify himself, he purchases an old mid-size, fairly-worn tire for 60-70 yuan, selling it for 800-900 after refurbishing it. Sometimes, he can sell them for more than 1,000 yuan apiece. With material and labor costs taken out, he can make a decent 400-500 a tire easily. A few Zhejiang and Hebei businessmen have hit the jackpot in recent years.
Lacking technology and regulation, Xinjiang’s refurbished tire business is booming. A solid waste management center, set up in 2005, is too short-staffed to monitor old tires. A traffic policeman said the authorities have regulations over retired vehicles, but nothing over old tires. Still China’s refurbishing rate is way lower than the world’s average, 26 news tires vs 1 refurbished tire, against 10:1 for the world. [Full Text in Chinese]
[Image: refurbished tire, via Xinhua]