NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. shut down operations at its Nashville passenger and light truck tire plant Nov. 7, leaving the firm's Hanford, Calif., facility as its only tire factory. In a letter to workers, the company said, ``... production has been decreased to the point that, until further notice, you need not report to work.''
The letter also implied the facility possibly may reopen. ``The
company is preparing individualized statements generally defining your benefits in the event of a plant closure,'' the letter stated.
Despite the shutdown, the New Haven-based company will remain firmly established in the North American high-performance passenger and light truck markets, a company spokesman said.
``The company is now prepared to focus its strategy on high-performance Pirelli-brand tires, which will be made primarily at its Hanford facility,'' he said.
Pirelli Armstrong has been trying to find a partner or buyer for the Nashville plant since January and will continue to search for a buyer despite the shutdown.
At least four tire makers toured the plant earlier this year before deciding not to purchase it.
The closure ``is the last step in (the firm's) restructuring effort which began in 1994 and is focused on the full exploitation of the Pirelli-brand high-performance product,'' the spokesman said.
Pirelli Armstrong's plans include ``taking all necessary steps to keep its business profitable, competitive and positioned for future growth within the U.S. market,'' the spokesman added.
The Hanford plant won't be the sole supplier of Pirelli-brand products to the U.S.—some of the 15 wholly owned facilities and one joint venture factory operated by parent company Pirelli Group of Italy also will supply the North American market.
``But specifics regarding output and capacity are proprietary information,'' the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the plant's closure won't bring the demise of the Armstrong brand tires produced there. He said the company has sufficient inventory to supply current Armstrong customers and plans to continue supplying the brand via its Hanford plant and ``select international facilities.''
The spokesman said the move should not be interpreted as a sign that Pirelli is backing out of North America. ``The company is firmly committed to the U.S. marketplace,'' he said, ``having just invested $40 million in the Hanford plant earlier this year.''
Furthermore, the favorable recognition Pirelli tires have received in user-satisfaction studies conducted by J.D. Power & Associates as well as in Consumers Digest magazine show the brand has ``strong support in this market,'' the spokesman added.
Pirelli passenger tires tied with those of Michelin for ``best overall'' in this year's J.D. Power survey of consumer's satisfaction with their original equipment tires. Last year, the brand placed third in the same category behind Michelin and BFGoodrich.
Pirelli Armstrong ranks about eighth in size among U.S.-based tire manufacturers, having North American tire sales of approximately $300 million in 1995.
The company recently moved its research and development offices to Hanford from New Haven in hopes of jump-starting sales.
The firm also is debating whether to sell its New Haven headquarters, but the spokesman said there are no plans to move the offices to Hanford.
Pirelli obtained the plant in 1988 when it bought Armstrong Tire Co. and formed Pirelli Armstrong. In 1994, the company sold its Des Moines, Iowa, tire plant to Titan Wheel International Inc.