This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing pneumatic casings, inner tubes, and solid and cushion tires for all types of vehicles, airplanes, farm equipment, and children's vehicles; tiring; camelback; and tire repair and retreading materials. Establishments primarily engaged in retreading tires are classified in SIC 7534: Tire Retreading and Repair Shops.
326211 (Tire Manufacturing (except Retreading))
After years of intense price wars, consolidation, and layoffs, the tire and inner tube industry was highly concentrated by the early 2000s. The top three firms controlled roughly two-thirds of the global market; the capital-intensive nature of the industry lends itself to such patterns. While raw materials prices were relatively stable and assured, since most manufacturers maintained their own rubber plantations (most of them in southeast Asia), the cost of manufacturing operations was particularly high, making it difficult for smaller firms to generate economies of scale. The 1980s and 1990s were spent bearing out the consequences of these industry dynamics, with non-stop restructuring, acquisitions, and consolidation.
In 2000, U.S. tire manufacturing shipment values totaled $14.6 billion, accounting for some 40 percent of all U.S. rubber products manufacturing. From the mid-1990s through 2000, shipment values remained relatively steady. For example, values amounted to $14.1 billion in 1995, $14.7 billion in 1997, and $13.9 billion in 1999. The largest portion of industry sales came from passenger car pneumatic tires, followed by truck and bus pneumatic tires, and other products like tractor and industrial pneumatics. According to data from the Rubber Manufacturers Association's Tire Market Analysis Committee, amid weak economic conditions, tire unit shipments dropped more than 6 percent in 2001 and were relatively stagnant in 2002.
The tire industry developed in the twentieth century as a major supplier to the manufacturers of automobiles and other vehicles and to consumers seeking replacement tires. The tire and rubber industries have traditionally been based in Akron, Ohio, where most tire and rubber companies' headquarters were located.
The tire business is reasonably assured of stable sales. While the demand for vehicles can fluctuate with changing economic conditions, the purchase of replacement tires cannot be long deferred, giving a relative evenness to the rate of tire purchases. Unfortunately for industry players, however, the increased durability of tires (because of technical improvements) has decreased the rate of replacement purchases, forcing manufacturers to compete along lines of durability, innovation, and style.
Most tires are manufactured by relatively large companies that produce a wide range of types and sizes; smaller tire producers tend to limit output to specialized product groups. While a major portion of sales in the industry are to vehicle manufacturers for installation as original equipment, a much larger share are sold as replacements through various distribution channels; while manufacturers have made substantial inroads into the retail distribution market, this area is still dominated by independent dealerships.
The tire and inner tube industry depends chiefly on rubber suppliers for raw materials and automobile manufacturers for sales. More than 50 percent of the world's production of rubber goes into the manufacture of automobile tires. The tire and inner tube industry is the largest element of the rubber industry group as a whole, constituting more than 40 percent of that group's product sales. The rubber industry group is represented by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA). RMA members make up more than three-fourths of the dollar sales of the rubber industry group as a whole.
The industry's strength and stability belies an undercurrent of competition and economic issues that have changed the industry's structure and led to abandonment of plants, reductions of employees, and limited profitability.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. tire and inner tube industry's ownership concentration was shifted overseas. Whereas U.S. tire manufacturers once dominated the world industry, by the 1990s the four largest companies were owned by French, Japanese, and Italian nationals. British interests have attempted, unsuccessfully, to acquire control of remaining leading U.S. tire producers. Competition has become more severe and more international in scope. These ownership changes have been a part of a trend toward mergers of many of the major companies, resulting in larger but fewer independent companies in the top structure of the industry. Within the United States, production is concentrated in southern states like North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Alabama.
Tire Types and Characteristics. Though a small number of tires sold consist of solid rubber, practically all are pneumatic, or inflated with air. The pneumatic tire was developed in the late 1800s for use in bicycles, just prior to the onset of the automobile industry. Later, thousands of sizes and types of pneumatic tires were made available for passenger cars and other vehicles, including trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles, airplanes, and construction vehicles. Tire sizes range from less than two pounds to more than three tons for earth-moving equipment.
Tire casings are made from layers of rubber compounds and synthetic fibers or steel wire. The design and arrangement of these layers, or plies, affect qualities like cornering ability, vibration absorption, and durability.
Relationship with the Auto Industry. The tire and inner tube industry has always been heavily dependent upon the automobile industry. Competition among the tire manufacturers has been fierce, particularly competition for status as original equipment for automakers. Since car buyers tend to purchase replacement tires of the same brand originally sold on the car, it behooves a tire producer to cut prices and induce auto producers to select its brand. For each tire included as original equipment, an average of three replacement tires will be bought.
The History of Rubber. Christopher Columbus noted the existence of rubber on his second voyage to the New World when he observed indigenous groups playing with balls they had made from a liquid obtained from a tree. Practical uses of rubber products began in earnest in the early 1800s, particularly with the use of rubber in clothing as a means for waterproofing. However, widespread applications were limited because the rubber material was somewhat sticky, odorous, and easily affected by shifts in temperature.
An American inventor, Charles Goodyear, developed the vulcanization process of rubber in 1839. By incorporating lead and sulfur with rubber and applying heat, Goodyear created qualities of durability and stability, which facilitated the use of rubber in many practical and beneficial products, particularly tires.
In 1876, Sir Henry Wickham planted some rubber trees in Kew Gardens from rubber tree seeds he brought from Brazil. These trees were transferred to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the Malay Peninsula where a rubber plantation industry developed that produced almost 3 million tons a year. Some of the larger tire producers later acquired and managed their own rubber plantations.
Tire Design Developments. The pneumatic principle was first developed in 1845 by a British engineer, Robert William Thomson, who applied it with modest success to carriage tires. However, solid rubber tires remained more popular until John Boyd Dunlop patented a more practical pneumatic tire in 1888. Dunlop's tire consisted of a vulcanized rubber and canvas tube with a valve attached to a solid wood wheel.
In 1890 further tire design refinements were developed by Charles Kingston Welsh and William Erskine Bartlett. A design featuring a detachable pneumatic tire, created and patented by Welsh, continued to be used in the twentieth century. Bartlett developed the beaded edge for the tires so that the tire's edge could be hooked securely to the wheel's rim and would remain firmly attached by compressed air in the tire.
Synthetic Rubber. The early 1900s saw the growth of the automobile and tire industries. The business increased when the steel wheels of agricultural tractors were replaced with rubber tires. All tires were made from natural rubber until the 1940s when the supply of natural rubber was cut off from Asian plantations as a result of World War II hostilities. Out of necessity, a synthetic rubber was quickly developed and remained an important raw material in the industry. In the 1960s, synthetic rubber sales equaled that of natural rubber as a raw material for tires, and synthetic rubber eventually became the preferred material.
Tire Structure and Features. Tires are manufactured by assembling plies of rubberized fabric on a cylindrical drum. Various materials may be used in the plies, including cotton, rayon, nylon, and polyester. Steel wire or glass fiber is incorporated in radial tires, perpendicular to the direction of the tire's motion, providing more stability.
Radial tires were first sold in the United States after World War II by France's Michelin. They were not produced extensively by U.S. tire manufacturers until the Lincoln Continental adopted Michelin radials as standard for its 1968 model. Radials eventually became the most popular tire, comprising more than 90 percent of the passenger car tires and 65 percent of truck tires purchased in 1990.
The performance of tires has improved greatly over the years. Manufacturers have improved durability, traction, cornering, shock absorption, and ease of mounting. Designs for tires with greater width and lower height have given vehicles greater contact with the road, lowering the center of gravity.
Changing Company Ownership. Except for French-owned Michelin, technically and commercially successful since the late 1800s, the tire market was dominated by well-known U.S. company brand names such as Goodyear, Goodrich, Uniroyal, Firestone, Dunlop, General, and Armstrong. However, foreign companies purchased most of these brands between 1985 and 1993.
A major reason for the purchase of U.S. tire companies by foreign firms over this period was the decreasing value of the dollar. Furthermore, due to the weak economy, U.S. tire companies and foreign-owned companies operating in the United States were unable to overcome the fact that more tires have been imported to than were exported from the United States between 1971 and 1999.
Original-equipment light truck tires were the fastest growing market category in 1998, with shipments of 8.5 million units, up 21 percent from the previous year. Replacement passenger car tires clearly led the overall market in production, at 191 million units, while 81 million original automobile tires were manufactured. Total production of all tire categories reached a record 295 million units, of which 215 million were replacements.
Tire manufacturers faced growing competition from tire-retreading firms in the late 1990s. In 1998, these companies sold 30.9 million retreaded tires in North America, worth more than $2 billion. In pricing, long the focus of tire competition, retreads cost 30 to 50 percent less than new tires. Moreover, retread firms can highlight their products' environment-friendly characteristics, as they reduce waste and save tires from landfills, a concern to many environmentalists as the nation's scrap-tire production reached 270 million units in 1998, nearly 100 million of which were added to stockpiles. However, in 1999 retreads suffered a wave of negative publicity, including skepticism and concern relating to their safety on highways. Nonetheless, major manufacturers have taken note; Michelin North America, Inc. moved into the retread market in 1999, and Bridgestone/Firestone was expected to follow suit.
Following a year of record shipments in 2000 (321 million units), the industry saw shipments fall more than 6 percent in 2001, declining some 21 million units. This slip in performance was attributable to a slowdown in automobile sales amid a weak economy, as well as decreased consumer confidence following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. Although shipments did not decrease in 2002, Rubber World reported that the Rubber Manufacturers Association's Tire Market Analysis Committee estimated growth to be only 2.7 million units, or less than 1 percent. As the economy recovered, the association projected that unit shipments would increase by 15 million units in both 2003 and 2004, representing an annual growth rate of more than 4 percent.
Following more than 270 accident-related deaths and many more injuries related to the Ford Explorer and Bridgestone/Firestone ATX and ATX II Wilderness AT tires, safety came to the forefront of the tire industry during the early 2000s. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. was forced to issue a recall in August 2000 involving more than 14 million of the aforementioned tires. By 2003 both Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. had settled lawsuits with various states related to the deaths, at significant costs to both organizations. However, the companies still faced a number of personal injury suits.
In 2002 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation, issued "a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard to improve the information readily available to consumers about tires." The administration was required to do this in accordance with the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000. The NHTSA explained its final ruling, effective September 1, 2003: "The new information will assist consumers in identifying tires that may be the subject of a safety recall. It will also increase public awareness of the importance and methods of observing motor vehicle tire load limits and maintaining proper tire inflation levels for the safe operation of a motor vehicle." The legislation provides the NHTSA with the authority to make certain requirements of manufacturers if such action is necessary for promoting information about tire safety.
The growth of niche markets has offered the industry a much-needed break from vigorous price-war-based competition. The growing demand for everything from tires for specific weather conditions to tires of a particular style or color has necessitated increased flexibility in production facilities, so as to avoid tallying excessive manufacturing costs in attempting to bring diverse product lines to market. However, such streamlining calls for significant investment, further squeezing many smaller companies. The drive toward technological innovation and product diversification characterized the tire industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Bridgestone Corp. Bridgestone was a leading Japanese tire manufacturer, as well as a producer of bicycles, sporting goods, and various rubber industrial products, when it decided to merge its Bridgestone U.S.A. operations with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1990. Bridgestone bid for Firestone against Italy's Pirelli in 1988 and ended up paying $2.6 billion for the U.S. firm.
"Bridgestone" is an English translation of its founder's name. The company evolved from a family clothing business that added a rubber sole to its line of footwear. A line of tires was initiated in 1923. After the Korean War, Bridgestone established tire plants in Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, and it also formed a collaborative effort with Spaulding in the United States for making golf balls. In the 1980s, Bridgestone began tire production at a Firestone plant it acquired in Tennessee and, a few years later, it purchased the entire Firestone Company.
Firestone was formed in Akron, Ohio, by Harvey S. Firestone in 1900, and Ford was one of its early and regular customers. Later Firestone encountered several problems, including defects in its steel-belted radial tires and alleged tax violations and illegal campaign contributions. These problems led to a period of retrenchment during which plants closed, employment dropped, and several businesses were sold.
In 2001 Bridgestone Corp. led the world market for tires. The firm retained its leadership position in the early 2000s despite having to recall millions of Bridgestone/Firestone ATX and ATX II Wilderness AT tires in the wake of accident-related deaths involving the Ford Explorer. Bridgestone Corp. marketed tires in North America through Nashville, Tennessee-based Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. In 2001 the company's North American unit recorded sales of $7.0 billion, and the parent organization achieved sales of $16.3 billion.
Compagnie Generale des Etablissements Michelin. Headquartered in Clermont-Ferrand, France, Michelin was one of the earliest producers of tires for bicycles and carriages and has become the world's second place manufacturer of tires and inner tubes, with 127,467 employees and revenues of $14.4 billion in 2001. The company markets tires in the United States, Canada, and Mexico through its subsidiary Michelin North America, Inc.
In 1863, two brothers who had operated a rubber products business for some 30 years formed a new company, developing a detachable pneumatic bicycle tire in 1891 and producing similar products for carriages and then automobiles. In the early 1900s, Michelin pioneered tire design improvements including the first tubeless tire and a low profile shape. The company soon added plants in Italy and the United States to its French production facilities. In the 1930s Michelin marketed the first radial tire, which significantly helped tire traction and wear. U.S. tire producers did not follow Michelin's lead in radials until decades later.
Always a leader in Europe, Michelin broke into the U. S. market by selling its innovative radials to Ford and other automakers in the 1960s. By 1980 Michelin had four tire facilities in the United States. In 1989 Michelin bought the Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Company, a firm formed when two struggling tire companies merged in the mid-1980s. Absorbing these troubled organizations, along with a highly competitive tire market, resulted in heavy losses for Michelin in 1991. With its development of the ecological tire in 1992, Michelin anticipated the later trend toward more efficient niche models. The company maintained its own rubber plantations in Nigeria and Brazil and was poised for continued expansion into North America.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Traditionally the global center of the tire and rubber industries, Goodyear has for years made more tires than any other tire producer. Since most of Goodyear's domestic tiremaking competitors were acquired by foreign firms by the mid-1980s, Goodyear, based in Akron, Ohio, became the only leading tire producer headquartered in the United States. In the early 2000s Goodyear was third among the world's leading tire manufacturers, posting 2001 revenues of $14.1 billion and employing 96,430 people.
Goodyear was founded in 1898 by Frank A. Sieberling, who named the company after Charles Goodyear, inventor of the vulcanization process. By World War I, after making a variety of technical and practical design improvements, Goodyear had the largest tire sales volume of any company. Between the two world wars, the company survived some financial difficulties, developed production operations in four other countries, owned and managed rubber plantations, and created the famous Goodyear blimp as a promotional tool. After World War II, Goodyear set up production facilities in six more countries and promoted the development of synthetic rubber. Goodyear addressed tough competition from Michelin's radial tire by developing its own design innovations, creating a new all-weather tire, and expanding its interests into the field of gas and oil pipelines.
In 1986, a British financier attempted to buy Goodyear. To fend off this move, Goodyear sold its cotton growing and aerospace businesses, including its blimp manufacturing activity. Using those resources and heavy borrowing, Goodyear bought back $2.6 billion of its stock. After slumping in the early 1990s, the firm bounced back strongly throughout the remainder of the decade with innovative new products like the Aquatred premium-priced tire, renewed emphasis on the replacement market, distribution through mass retailers, and expansion into the emerging markets of Latin America and Asia.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. Cooper's tire division accounted for about 53 percent of the company's 2001 revenue of $3.2 billion. With 23,268 employees, Cooper produced automobile, truck, and motorcycle tires, as well as inner tubes. In 2003 the company was positioned as the fourth largest North American tire manufacturer. Cooper has distinguished itself from many of its competitors by targeting the replacement tire market, of which it owned some 15-20 percent, rather than competing with the larger industry players for position with the major automobile manufacturers. Based in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper marketed its products throughout the Americas, Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, distributing about half its tires via independent distributors and the other half as private brand labels through oil company retail systems.
Throughout the mid-and late 1990s, employment in the tire and inner tube industry hovered around 65,000 people. By 2000, it was just above that figure, at 66,396. Of that total, 56,699 were production workers, who earned an average of $21.72 per hour, up from $19.74 in 1996. The most plentiful jobs in the industry were in the production and maintenance areas. More technical activities were in the research and development, production planning and control, accounting and finance, and information systems functions. Career paths can proceed from production operator to supervisor, department head, and plant manager. Such lateral moves can be made as from production supervisor to production control technician.
Opportunities for careers in the industry have generally been fewer than in other industries, largely because of severe competition resulting from mergers and acquisitions and excess capacity. Meanwhile, the relatively high wages were offset by the drive by most companies to keep prices low in order to gain or maintain market share, thus limiting employment figures. Nevertheless, some companies planned to increase prices and production capacity. Furthermore, at the top levels, opportunities were created for business leaders to help organizations overcome losses or unsatisfactory profit margins.
Unions. The United Rubber Workers (URW) have represented employees at American tire companies since the 1930s and 1940s. Firestone's union workers endured long strikes in 1936 and 1976; in 1981 its URW members agreed to wage reductions. The URW instituted "pattern bargaining" to negotiate contracts in 1946. Having won modest concessions from the URW in the 1980s to help meet its competitive challenges, Goodyear came to a relatively generous agreement with the group in 1994. The URW expected Goodyear's largely foreign-owned competitors with U.S. operations and subsidiaries to follow suit, but many, including Michelin (whose anti-union stance is well known) and Bridgestone, balked at the demands. In 1995, Bridgestone hired 2,000 replacements for striking workers, prompting the URW to seek strength in numbers via a merger with the United Steel Workers, resulting in one of the largest, most significant strikes in late twentieth-century U.S. history and a victory for the workers. In 1999, the United Steelworkers led a year-long strike against Continental General Tire's North Carolina passenger-tire plant, rejecting the company's proposed increase in shift hours from 8 to 12, claiming the production of large bias-ply tires with the plant's aging equipment required too much physical strain to withstand a 12-hour shift.
U.S. exports in 2001 totaled $2.27 billion, while imports amounted to $4.16 billion. These figures both declined from 2000 levels, falling 5.3 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively.
In late 2002 the International Trade Commission moved to raise tariffs on imported steel wire rod, according to Rubber World . This decision had the potential to negatively impact U.S. tire manufacturers with higher prices. As the publication explained, U.S. tire producers relied heavily on internationally produced steel wire because it was of higher quality than wire produced within the United States. As a result of the ITA's decision, tariffs stood to increase as much as 369 percent.
Most leading companies had tire plants in several countries and sold their products in international markets. Since the latter part of the 1980s, the tire industry has also become much more multinational in ownership as many of the top U.S. tire companies were bought by foreign concerns. In fact, the multinational mergers and acquisitions have left few tire companies in the United States unaffiliated with foreign firms.
Recent research has emphasized creating and improving the design and specifications of tire products to meet customers' needs and wishes, especially in the realm of durability. Though technical skills have always been applied to production methodology and cost controls, operating efficiency has been a dominant objective in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s because of intense competition.
Tire Design and Specifications. Historically, research and technology have been used to design better tire products for the purpose of developing strong competitive positions in the marketplace. Major breakthroughs included pneumatic tires for cushioning, removable tires for convenience, synthetic rubber to overcome material shortage, and radials to enhance durability and performance. Tire companies were increasingly keeping an eye on technological developments in the automobile industry. A future prospect centered on the development of tires with low rolling resistance for use with automobiles running on efficiency-based alternative fuels.
Goodyear and Bridgestone have developed a tire that can run safely for 200 miles after a flat, eliminating the inconvenience and dangers of changing a tire on the roadside. While "run-flats" were in high demand entering the 2000s, the challenge faced by manufacturers centered on how to offer the prolonged post-damage durability without sacrificing a smooth ride during the tire's regular performance. Goodyear also has been working on microprocessors to monitor the tire's air pressure, temperature, and wear, which might extend a tire's life by 15 percent. Meanwhile, Bridgestone has developed a tire capable of healing itself upon being punctured. The tire design incorporates a polymer material, called Sealix, which can liquefy and harden around a tire puncture. Other research involves extending tire life, enhancing traction in adverse conditions, and increasing fuel efficiency and lowering auto emissions by reducing rolling resistance.
In early 2003, Michelin became a pioneer of sorts by announcing that it had developed a radio frequency identification (RFID) transponder for use in tires. Placed directly inside of tires during the manufacturing process, the small device was capable of storing a wide variety of data that made it possible for consumers to easily obtain detailed, specific information about their tires including the date and location of manufacture, a unique tire identification number, the vehicle's identification number, tire size, maximum pressure, and more. According to one industry player, the new device had the potential of making compliance with the new TREAD legislation more manageable. Initially, Michelin planned to include the transponder in tires on new vehicles sometime in 2005. In addition, the company planned to make its RFID technology available to other industry players.
Environmental Concerns. The tire industry's environmental efforts have focused primarily on the reuse, recycling, and safe disposal of scrap tires. Reuse programs include retreading, a well-established niche of the tire industry, as well as newer anti-erosion programs. Recycled tires have been used in asphalt-based road coverings, shoes, household items, and even new tires. But in spite of all these programs, hundreds of millions of tire discards went to landfills in the 1990s.
Some processes attempted to avoid the problem of scrap tires before it began. Goodyear patented a process by which around 80 percent of a tire's rubber could be recovered and reused in rubber products, including recycled tires. The specialized devulcanization process, whereby the tire's essential ingredients were broken apart from the sulfur and other tire components so that they may be reused, could generate dramatic waste reduction.
Manufacturing and Cost Controls. Since the mid-1980s, when merger and acquisition activities dominated the industry, the intensified competition encouraged or required the tire producers to reduce costs so they could trim prices and survive with slimmer profit margins. To cut costs, producers engaged in "downsizing," eliminating inefficient plants, and streamlining operations. These cost improvement activities required the companies' technical staffs to design better production methods and apply computer techniques to save workers' time, speed processes, and improve quality. Most tire-manufacturing facilities still involved hand-made assembly by a series of workers, though many firms, like Bridgestone, set upon a course to allow machines to piece together the various components, leaving workers to monitor the process and perform quality checks.
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