Record U.S. tire shipments-a remarkable achievement in the midst of history's longest United Rubber Workers strike-were just one of many surprises encountered by the industry during 1994. Buoyed by reports of an increasingly robust economy, pent-up consumer demand sent U.S. tire shipments soaring-far exceeding most earlier forecasts.
By late fall, market forecasters, who earlier had estimated the year's replacement passenger tire shipments at about 169 million units, had increased these forecasts to 170 million.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, new records are believed to have been set for shipments of both original equipment and replacement passenger and light truck tires as well as replacement heavy-duty truck and large off-the-road tires.
Most dealers said they were able to obtain sufficient tires despite the prolonged strike.
Some securities analysts also speculated that the strike-which at press time (Jan. 5) was still going on at five plants operated by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. -may have improved the profitability of non-affected tire makers by restricting industry production and thereby stabilizing prices.
Goodyear, the largest and most profitable U.S. tire maker, found itself doing battle on two fronts.
In California, a group calling itself the Goodyear Independent Dealers Association filed suit against the company in a dispute over perceived inequities in how the firm treats independents compared to other channels of distribution.
The Akron-based tire maker also was obliged to defend itself against charges of fraud allegedly perpetrated against automotive service customers at its company-owned retail outlets.
Early in the year, some Chicago-area Goodyear auto service operations were hit with an undercover ``sting operation'' by a local television station.
Then in October, the television news program, 20/20, aired what it called a ``major investigation of some of the biggest names in the automotive repair business,'' including Goodyear, Kmart Corp. and Firestone Tire & Service
During this past year, a 1993 lawsuit charging Kmart Corp. with defrauding thousands of auto service customers by deliberately selling unneeded parts and service or charging for services not performed was granted class action status by an Oklahoma judge. Losing that case reportedly could cost the giant retailer billions.
Interestingly, on the very day the 20/20 program aired, the lawyer in the Kmart case also filed suit against Goodyear-charging the tire company with defrauding automotive service customers and seeking class action status for the alleged victims.
These are just a few of the many interesting stories occurring throughout the past year. In its Jan. 23 issue, TIRE BUSINESS will look at what tire dealers can expect in 1995.