AKRON-By the time Dec. 31, 1994, rolled around, eight all-time North America tire shipment records had fallen by the wayside. And the replacement market led the charge.
Shipments of replacement passenger tires to the U.S. market reached nearly 170 million units, up 2.8 percent over 1993. That was 2.5 percent higher than the previous record of 165.8 million units shipped in 1992, according to Rubber Manufacturers Association data.
Year-end light truck tire shipments to the aftermarket also set a new record, jumping 11.9 percent over 1993 to 26.4 million units.
In Canada, passenger tire shipments also broke a rec-ord, reaching the 12.5 million unit mark, the Rubber Association of Canada said.
Passenger and light truck shipments to the U.S. original equipment market, aided by strong automotive sales, also broke previous records. Passenger tires hit a new high of 58.5 million units, up 6.6 percent over the record of 54.8 million units set in 1985.
Light truck tires-at 5.89 million units-skyrocketed more than 28 percent over last year's record.
All but one North American tire category finished the year ahead of 1993. The lone exception: tractor/implement shipments to the Canadian replacement market, the RMA and RAC said.
But troubled waters may be on the horizon as automotive sales dipped below year-ago totals during the first two months of this year. Industry analysts, some of whom earlier predicted 1995 would mark a slowdown in the automotive and tire sales trends of the early 1990s, said rising interest rates and reduced consumer confidence could dampen sales.
Mary Anne Sudol, an analyst with Fitch Investor Services Inc., said, ``It's a very messy (economic) time. ``People who are potential car buyers see this on the six o'clock news every night. . . It makes them nervous about their own situation and about making big commitments.''
Furthermore, rising raw materials costs might actually have served to boost year-end shipment totals, according to Cleveland-based analyst, Harry Millis, of Fundamental Research Inc.
Mr. Millis believes high replacement category numbers for 1994-particularly for light truck tires-may have been inflated as dealers boosted inventory levels before recent price hikes.
``Most of the dealers I talked to said (retail) demand wasn't up 3 percent,'' he said.
Although Mr. Millis predicted 1995 will be a ``reasonably solid year'' for tire sales, he added: ``We are definitely close to the end of the (growth) cycle if we haven't already passed it.''