NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 10, 20000)—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. claims it nearly has doubled its share of the North American original equipment market since 1992.
"We´ve grown by remaining competitive in quality, service, technology and price," said Art Stuart, president of Bridgestone/Firestone Original Equipment Tire Sales Co.
In North America, about a third of the tires Bridgestone/Firestone produces are for the OE market. From a volume standpoint, Ford Motor Co. is its largest OE customer on the continent, and also its oldest. Firestone filled its first Ford order—for 2,000 sets of tires—in 1906.
Bridgestone/Firestone contends it grew from a 15-percent share of the North American market in 1992 to a 26-percent share last year. Other sources put its share about 5 percent lower, behind Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc.
The light truck tire segment is the only OE category in which Bridgestone/Firestone trails Goodyear significantly, according to Kenji Shibata, president of the Japanese-owned company.
"On the consumer side there´s been unbelievable growth, coupled with the fact that we´ve just exploded in original equipment," said John Lampe, president of Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Co.
"Don´t forget that in ´88 we woke up one morning and got a call saying we weren´t going to be selling 8 million tires a year to General Motors," he said.
Despite being squeezed out as a supplier to GM shortly before Bridgestone Corp.´s acquisition of Firestone, Bridgestone/Firestone has won back the business and now counts GM as its second-largest OE customer in North America.
"Right now we are 21- to 22-percent supplier of total tire volume to GM, exclusive of Saturn," Mr. Stuart said, a share the company has held since 1992.
Bridgestone/Firestone supplies GM with light-truck and medium-duty tires and spare tires through its Southfield, Mich., sales office. It also supplies all Saturn Corp. tires.
In each of the last four years, the tire maker has earned a GM "Supplier of the Year" award, a designation that goes to only about 100 out of every 100,000 suppliers and that has never gone to another rubber company, according to Mr. Lampe.
"And that´s from an OEM that threw us out in ´88," he said. "I´d say things are different."
Aside from domestic North American car manufacturers, Bridgestone/Firestone has maintained a 30-percent share of the Japanese transplant OEMs in North America since 1989, working from relationships it established with them in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Stuart said.
Certainly, BFS´ Japanese parentage makes it easier to gain business with transplant car manufacturers, he acknowledged.
"What we have is the ability to interface in Japan with the parent companies (of the transplants) on a daily basis," Mr. Stuart said. "Many times the plans transplants make come from Japan, and the fact that we have a major presence in Japan gives us a competitive advantage."
Bridgestone/Firestone´s Japanese ownership reduces the possibility of misinterpretation and promotes clearer and more concise information and understanding, Mr. Stuart said. "I don´t think all of our competitors can say that."
Japan helps with information flow and clarification of customer objectives, "but in order to be successful with any OEM, you have to be able to deal with them and meet their expectation in their home market," Mr. Stuart said.
Bridgestone/Firestone maintains two major, well-recognized world brands, and technical centers in Western Europe, Japan and the U.S. "I´m not sure all of our competitors have (technical centers) in all of the major markets," Mr. Stuart said.
Bridgestone/Firestone believes its strong distribution in North America also gives it a competitive edge. The tire maker has 7,000 independent dealerships and 1,580 company-owned, company-controlled points of sale which afford it the opportunity to take care of customers as it wants, Mr. Stuart said.
"OEs are interested in that because if the customer has a problem, they want to make sure the customer is taken care of," he said.
Also in the company´s corner is its "dominant presence" in motorsports—Indy car in North America and Formula One in Europe, Mr. Stuart said.
"We are spending a considerable amount of money to elevate the brand images of both products," he said. Bridgestone/Firestone returned to racing sponsorship in 1995 after an absence of more than 20 years from Indy car racing.
Going forward, the tire maker´s North American strategy for the OE market is to remain competitive in quality, service, technology and price and to examine any business opportunity that makes sense, Mr. Stuart said. "We want to remain one of the `Big 3.´ ´´
Bridgestone/Firestone prides itself on its ability to respond to customer requests in many different forms, whether it´s through computer technology or face-to-face discussions, Mr. Stuart said.
"I think the relationship of a tire maker and an auto maker is much closer today," he said. "OEs have become more dependent on us to help them bring a product forward with more consumer value."
Like other tire makers, Bridge-stone/Firestone today gets involved much earlier in the product development cycle than 10 years ago, Mr. Stuart said.
The tire industry´s primary focus seems to be on safety and—from the OE side—weight reduction, rolling resistance and meeting Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations, Mr. Stuart said.
Bridgestone/Firestone is responding, he said.
Last December the Nashville, Tenn.-based company began marketing the FT70C tire, featuring Sealix, its patented sealant material.
Then in February the tire maker released its Firestone Firehawk SZ50 EP RFT tire, a revamped version of the tire it introduced in 1996.
Developed for the Chevrolet C5 Corvette replacement market, the tire features run-flat and Bridgestone/Firestone´s UNI-T AQ technology.
Bridgestone/Firestone will continue to focus on self-sealing and run-flat technologies, Mr. Stuart said. "Certainly, that´s an area our company is interested in gaining share in."