NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Pirelli Tire North America has announced tentative plans to close its Hanford, Calif., tire plant, the company's lone tire factory in North America.
Pirelli officials issued a six-month closure notice and told plant employees of the news Oct. 5, a company spokesman said.
"We have made the tentative decision because it is not economically feasible to sustain operations in Hanford if we are to meet our competitive demands and continue to operate as a strong, viable business in the North American market," the company said in a statement.
Productivity at the Hanford plant fails to meet the standards of other Pirelli plants worldwide and of competitors' facilities, the spokesman added.
The company plans to meet with local and national members of the United Steelworkers of America, which represents workers at the plant, "to see if we can avoid closure," the spokesman said. He estimated these discussions will take three to four months before a final decision is reached.
Tire production during this period will continue uninterrupted, the spokesman said, and the company remains confident that employees will continue to operate the facility in the same manner as before the announcement.
Doug Godinho, president of Local 703, which represents hourly workers at the plant, said he was "kind of surprised, but not really," at the announcement. "The factory has been up and down for the last five years," he said.
The Hanford plant, built in 1962, operates at a capacity of 10,000 passenger and light truck tires a day and has a work force of 490 employees.
The tentative closure notice should have no impact on Pirelli's North American business operations nor its strategic alliance with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., the spokesman said.
Under the Cooper deal, the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker has taken over sales and distribution of Pirelli-brand passenger and light truck tires in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Cooper also had assigned personnel to help boost the Hanford operation, but Mr. Godinho said there have been no Cooper personnel at the factory since July, when an executive from Pirelli's Italian parent took over.
Should the plant close, the spokesman said the company will source tires primarily through Pirelli factories in South America and Europe.
The decision also has nothing to do with Pirelli's new MIRS (Modular Integrated Roboticized System) tire manufacturing process, which the parent company unveiled July 11 in Milan, Italy.
"We're trying to make it clear that there is no link between Hanford and MIRS," the spokesman said, noting the plants produce different types of tires.
Pirelli S.p.A., Pirelli Tire's parent company, currently operates a MIRS module in Milan, capable of producing 125,000 tires a year, and plans to add a second unit at the same location by the end of February 2001.
An announcement about a site for a MIRS plant in the U.S. could occur possibly within 30 days, the spokesman said.
Pirelli obtained the Hanford factory and two other tire plants, in Des Moines, Iowa, and Nashville, Tenn., when it purchased the former Armstrong Tire Co. in 1988. It sold the Des Moines plant to Titan Wheel International Inc. in 1994 and closed the Nashville factory in 1996.