TOKYO-Japanese tire production will increase 1.5 percent this year to 151.3 million units-the first upturn in five years, according to a market forecast made in December by the Japan Automobile Tire Manufacturer's Association (JATMA). The Tokyo-based trade association, which represents Japan's seven automobile tire manufacturers, predicted that both domestic demand and exports will register growth during the year.
In the domestic market, tire sales are expected to increase 1 percent to 111.1 million units and 2.9 percent in weight to 595,020 metric tons, from preliminary 1994 totals of 110 million units and 577,994 metric tons.
(JATMA will issue its final 1994 sales results and revised market forecast in late February.)
``The increase, if it comes about, will result from an unexpected recovery in domestic vehicle production and sales,'' said Andrew Blair-Smith, auto analyst for Bar-clays de Zoete Wedd Research (Japan) Ltd.
Domestic vehicle sales are expected to grow 5 percent this year, reversing a three-year slide. This uptrend will only partially offset a projected fall in exports, analysts claimed.
As a result, demand for original equipment tires in the three main product categories-heavy-duty truck, light truck and passenger -will grow by just 1 percent to 40.9 million units, JATMA said.
The association predicted total OE tire sales, including motorcycle and cart tires, will fall by 0.4 percent to 46.9 million units.
In addition to an improved new car market, Mr. Blair-Smith cited strong OE and replacement demand for heavy-duty truck tires through at least the first three quarters of the year, as commercial vehicle operators must meet new and tighter nitrogen oxide (NOx) regulations.
Sales of OE truck tires will increase 11.7 percent, according to JATMA; replacement units will pick up 7.5 percent.
While the yen is expected to stay at record high levels in trading against the dollar, JATMA is forecasting 2.7 percent growth in exports to 40.2 million units.
Sources credit manufacturers' cost-cutting measures and brisk demand in North America for turning the situation around.
By segment, JATMA forecasts 1.2-percent growth in passenger (to 96.2 million units), 1.9-percent in light truck (32.4 million units) and 5.6-percent in truck and bus tires (9.9 million units).