The problem was that keeping them shiny required a lot of polishing. The coatings used in personal vehicles could not stand up to the punishment a commercial vehicle takes. For example, a personal vehicle might travel 75,000 miles during a five- or six-year period; a commercial vehicle might travel 75,000 miles every four to six months.
"We wanted to find a way to have a wheel in the truck market that keeps its bright, shiny appearance," says Mark Holtz, marketing manager, commercial vehicle wheels and accessories, for Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products. "We knew the product we put on light duty vehicles just wouldn't hold up in a commercial vehicle. We knew we needed to develop something unique and different.
"There was nothing out there that offered anything good enough for commercial use. We needed to innovate and come up with something that didn't exist."
The resulting product is the Dura-Bright surface treatment, which eliminates the need for polishing and protects against corrosion, enabling wheels to be cleaned with a spray of soap and water.
Engineers and technicians at Alcoa's Cleveland facility worked in tandem with the company's technical center near Pittsburgh to perfect the treatment over several years. The first commercial use was on a transit bus fleet in Pittsburgh in late 1999.
From there, sales doubled each year through 2001, primarily within the transit bus market, until a 300 percent increase in sales in 2002 when the product became available for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Following the installation of an additional production line to handle demand, 2003 sales are projected to be triple last year's.
The Dura-Bright treatment is more than just a spray-on coating.
"It penetrates into the aluminum and becomes part of the wheel itself," says Holtz. "It keeps corrosion from underneath it and prevents chipping or peeling. That's why it is unique. That's why it is patented." How to reach: Alcoa Wheel & Forged Products, (216) 641-5041 or www.dontpolish.com