FRANKFURT-The recession of 1993 and emergence of newly privatized manufacturers in central and eastern Europe are the catalysts behind the emergence of new tire brands expected to show up in North America this year. One former Eastern European brand, Pneumant, has signaled its return to the American marketplace, and manufacturers in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are casting an eye westward to market opportunities across the Atlantic.
Specifically, Poland's Debica S.A.-formerly part of the ``Stomil'' brand manufacturing and marketing alliance but now operating under the Debica name-is at an ``advanced stage'' in negotiations with unnamed private branders in both the U.S. and United Kingdom for the delivery of up to 1 million passenger radials.
Stomil-brand tires are still produced at factories in Olsztyn and Poznan, with the former, Stomil Olsztyn S.A., also keeping it no secret it is interested in increasing business, primarily via truck tires, in North America.
Other newly emerged companies in eastern Europe-Matador A.S. in Slovakia, Sava Kranj in Slovenia or Continental Barum A.S. in the Czech Republic-currently are working overtime to fill existing contracts and haven't yet seriously considered the American market.
As for the European marketplace, heavy snowfalls on the continent in December and early January provided some relief to beleaguered tire makers in the form of healthy winter tire sales; otherwise the rubber industry is faced with another difficult year.
Winter tires make up as much as 20 percent of the replacement markets in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as in the mountain regions of France and Italy. All-season tires, on the other hand, still claim only a percentage point or two of markets in Europe.
In Germany, Europe's largest single market for replacement tires, winter tires represent 20-22 percent of the 30 million units sold annually. Two-thirds of these normally are sold in October and November.
In addition, when winter tires are sold early in the season, prices tend to be more solid, improving returns for both dealers and manufacturers, industry sources said.
Continental A.G. already has stated the strong winter tire business in late 1993 helped solidify its bottom line for the year.
Measurable recovery from a disappointing 1993 won't be seen until the second half, most experts agree, when pent-up consumer demand in France, Italy and Germany starts to be felt.
The U.K. market, on the other hand, has already started to swing upward, according to Groupe Michelin, which is banking on an improved aftermarket this year to propel it back into the black.
The replacement market will see much activity, as Michelin and Pirelli Group step up marketing of recently launched aftermarket-only products-the Michelin Classic and Energy, and Pirelli's P5000 Vizzola and P200 Crono.
Goodyear is starting to make more widespread use of its Kelly and Lee brands to defend its market position at the lower end of the price scale, whereas Conti is sourcing a growing number of S-and T-rated tires under a variety of group names (Semperit, Gislaved etc.) from its eastern European manufacturing partners for these price segments.
With production by rubber manufacturers across Europe off an estimated 12 to 15 percent from 1992, any business improvement in 1994 will be welcome.
New car registrations last year fell a full 15 percent from 1992 to 11.5 million units-the lowest level in more than a decade. As a result, automotive suppliers have been forced to retrench, reduce employment, divest operations, and seek out forms of cooperation.
The continent's automotive components industry faces massive cutbacks by the decade's end unless it can improve productivity measurably, a study commissioned by the European Union reveals.
Claiming Japanese auto components makers are more than twice as productive as European suppliers, the Boston Consulting Group study forecasts as many as 400,000 job losses in the supplier sector by the year 2000, a drop of 40 percent.