NASHVILLE, Tenn.-He spoke of seeing ``the big picture.'' And when Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s new president, John Lampe, shone his light on the tire maker's commercial division, he plainly liked what he saw.
So much so he told attendees at the annual BFS commercial dealers meeting that, based on new technologies, manufacturing initiatives and marketing programs, the company was well on its way to becoming the industry's ``premier tire supplier in the commercial sector.''
During the March 20 conference in Nashville, Mr. Lampe, who recently took over the helm at BFS from Sunil Kumar, outlined some key basic strategies ``to make our company competitive and a strong partner'' for its dealers. Those included:
Increasing production by going to continuous operations at all BFS tire plants. (Although this has been a major point of contention with the United Rubber Workers union, which has been on strike against BFS since last summer, Mr. Lampe called the issue ``critical'' to the company's efforts to manage costs and keep its products competitive.);
Cutting operational expenses throughout the BFS organization.
Cutting raw material costs, which has been difficult, he admitted, due to a tremendous rise in natural rubber prices;
Increasing market share in every segment and brand by one percentage point in 1995; and
Initiating measures to improve cash flow.
Because the cost of manufactur-ing a truck tire has increased by almost $20 in response to increases in raw materials costs, Mr. Lampe promised dealers ``at least one more and possibly two more price increases from the industry this year.''
As evidence of the company's resurgence in the truck tire segment, Walt Weller, BFS division vice president of truck tire sales, noted that the tire maker ``sold an incredible 2.5 million Bridgestone truck tires'' in 1994. To become the industry's premier supplier, he told dealers BFS must increase its sales and market share.
Last year, sales were up 20 percent over 1993 numbers for each of the company's two brands in the replacement market, according to Mr. Weller, and up 30 percent for the Bridgestone brand in the original equipment market. Consequently, the firm gained almost 1.5 percent in replacement market share, he said, and more than 2 percent in original equipment.
BFS can't make tires fast enough, Mr. Weller said. And ``these new tires are generating incremental sales-meaning that we are taking business away from our competitors, not our own existing lines.''
To help manufacturing keep pace with orders, Robert J. McNally, president of Bridgestone/Firestone Off Road Tire Co. (BFOR), said its Bloomington, Ill., tire plant will begin production of Bridgestone brand radial OTR tires in the early part of 1996.
Acquired by BFS last year from Edwards-Warren Tire Co.'s America OTR unit, the plant has undergone what Mr. McNally called ``capital intensive'' capacity increases, including installation of two new tire assembly systems and four additional curing presses. Those will, he explained, help alleviate the shortage of smaller loader and grader tires, and will increase BFS capacity by 35 percent for those smaller tires.