WASHINGTON—While U.S. tire shipments reached records in six different categories last year, domestic production did not keep pace with the stepped-up demand, opening the door for greatly expanded imports, according to the latest Rubber Manufacturers Association data. The situation was particularly acute in passenger tires, where total U.S. shipments grew 3.4 percent to 280.3 million units, while production fell 2.2 percent to 214.7 million units. As a result, tire makers and marketers turned to imports, which jumped 22.3 percent compared with 1998 to 67 million tires.
In medium and wide-base truck tires, total shipments were up 8.5 percent to 23.8 million units, but production rose only 4.4 percent, to 14.9 million tires. Imports of truck tires soared 29 percent during the year, to 10.9 million units.
Shipments of light truck tires grew 9.2 percent, to 46.2 million units, while production advanced only 3 percent, to 37.8 million units. Overall, LT tire imports grew only 7.9 percent, but those of radials leapt 21.5 percent.
Importing should wane in 2000, as the growth of vehicle production slows and U.S. tire manufacturers add capacity, said the Tire Market Analysis Committee of the Rubber Manufacturers Association.