LAVERGNE, Tenn.—Nokian Tyres P.L.C. wants to make forestry and industrial tires in North America, but hasn't decided whether to build its own plant or enter an alliance with an existing domestic tire manufacturer.
"We're keeping our options open," said Morrie Van Dorp, manager of marketing services for the North American office of Finland-based Nokian. "Right now, we'd love to get some of that manufacturing here in the U.S."
Currently, Nokian imports virtually all the tires it sells in North America from Finland, adding cost and time to delivery, Mr. Van Dorp said. The only tires Nokian sources in the U.S. are light truck tires that Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. manufactures for it.
Nokian's only presence in the U.S. is its LaVergne sales office and warehouse, he said. Even the warehouse is considered a backup source of tires because 80 percent of Nokian's North American tire sales still go directly to customers from Finland.
If the forestry industry moves to larger tires—which it seems to be doing—importing would become even more expensive, making a domestic source of tires even more desirable, Mr. Van Dorp said.
Another factor in the drive to procure North American manufacturing is the limited capacity of Nokian's Finnish tire plant.
Nokian operates a 435,000-sq.-ft. facility in Nokia but has expanded it to its limits, he said.
With management wanting to make more passenger tires for European markets, there is not enough capacity for growth in forest and industrial tires, which are primarily sold in North America, Mr. Van Dorp said.
Nokian's North American sales have risen steadily in skidder tires and other large tires, he said, as well as its strongest market niche—winter tires.
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear's attempts to revive the North American winter tire market have benefited Nokian, which has manufactured snow and ice tires for Northern Europe since 1936, Mr. Van Dorp said.
"I'd love for them to spend $30 million, $40 million, $50 million to make consumers more conscious of the value of winter tires," he said.
The explosion of sport-utility vehicle sales also has sparked demand for winter tires, Mr. Van Dorp said.
Because of their weight and height, SUVs virtually require snow and ice tires to navigate winter conditions, he said.
Nokian operates the world's northernmost winter tire test facility in Ivalo, Finland, almost 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.