WASHINGTON—U.S. tire shipments to both the replacement and original equipment markets set records in 1999 in three major categories: passenger, light truck and medium/wide-base truck, according to year-end data from the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Altogether, tire shipments in these categories grew 5.3 percent last year, but that growth is expected to slow to 2.2 percent this year and remain at about that pace through 2005, the RMA's Tire Market Analysis Committee (TMAC) predicted.
1999's record tire shipments also resulted in record levels of tire imports, as domestic manufacturers were unable to keep pace with the stepped-up demand. (See separate story on page 33.) For the year, U.S. imports of passenger, light truck and truck/bus tires shot up 21.4 percent.
In the Canadian aftermarket, unit sales of passenger tires by members of the Rubber Association of Canada increased 5.3 percent to 14.3 million units, while sales of truck and bus tires rose 8 percent to 3.89 million units.
In the U.S., shipments of replacement passenger tires advanced 3.4 percent last year to a record 191.9 million units, and should reach 198 million this year for a 3.2-percent increase, the TMAC said.
Three replacement passenger tire sub-categories are predicted to grow at higher than average rates between 2000 and 2005, the committee said. Performance-rated passenger tires will grow at an annual rate of 6.4 percent, the TMAC forecast, with H-, V- and Z-speed-rated tires growing 9.2 percent annually.
In the third sub-category, P-metric light truck tires, replacement shipments climbed 13.5 percent to 18.2 million units in 1999 and should jump another 18.7 percent in 2000 to about 21.6 million units, the TMAC said.
P-metric LT tires often are fitted on sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), and while the committee said the growth of that vehicle segment should slow dramatically, aftermarket shipments of P-metric LT tires are expected to grow at an annual rate of 12.8 percent through 2005.
At the same time, shipments of replacement light truck tires—those with an "LT" designation—should grow at an annual rate of 5.1 percent, the TMAC said. That growth follows a 7.8-percent swell in shipments last year to a record 33.8 million units and what is expected to be a further gain of 5.8 percent this year to nearly 36 million units, the TMAC said.
Replacement shipments of medium and wide-base truck tires hit a record 14.7 million units in 1999, up 7.2 percent from 1998 levels and should advance another 3.5 percent this year to more than 15 million units, the committee said.
In the original equipment market, passenger tire shipments rose 6.8 percent to a record 61 million units, while light truck tires surged 21 percent to 8.42 million units, also a record.
Vehicle production in these categories reached its limits in 1999, the TMAC said, so no further gains in OE shipments are expected in 2000. With regard to SUVs, the committee reported a consensus that the growth rate of this vehicle segment, "typified by new markets and products, will begin to slow dramatically, as their market has reached a more mature and established level."
Shipments of OE medium and wide-base truck tires climbed 14.9 percent last year to a record 6.86 million units, but should slow by 500,000 units this year and take another two to three years to recover to 1999 levels, the TMAC said.
The only tire type reported by the RMA that failed to grow to record levels in 1999 was heavy truck tires. In this category, replacement shipments fell 7.5 percent to 236,700 units, while OE shipments plunged 25 percent to 83,600 units.
The RMA no longer reports shipment data for farm and implement tires or for industrial and utility tires due to a lack of cooperation from at least one major player in those market segments: Titan International Inc.