NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 10, 2001)—Earlier this year, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said it planned to build a new tire-and-wheel assembly plant in Columbia, Tenn.Ã¹its first such facility in North America. But the question is whether it will remain the company's only one.
Even though the Nashville-based tire maker said it has no plans for more tire-and-wheel assembly facilities, the Columbia plant has the markings of a new business segment geared to BFS' original equipment customers.
Why? Because it makes BFS a module supplier, a role coveted by major suppliers around the world.
From Columbia, BFS will take original-equipment tiresÃ¹possibly its own, but not necessarilyÃ¹and mate them with auto maker-specified wheels and related hardware. The plant will then deliver the installation-ready wheels to the assembly lines at Saturn Corp. down the road in Spring Hill, Tenn., and to General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Corvette and Cadillac plant 90 minutes away in Bowling Green, Ky.
It sounds simple, but the plan is radicalÃ¹at least for Bridgestone/Firestone, since Goodyear, Continental A.G. and Michelin already have similar facilities in various parts of the world. But the BFS project represents assembly work traditionally performed inside the auto plant by car maker employees.
The process elevates the rubber tire from a commodity product to an in-sequence assembly component. It also requires BFS to invest in an increasingly competitive business.
Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Ford, among other car companies, are either adopting or considering outsourced tire-and-wheel assembly.
BFS' Japan-based parent, Bridgestone Corp., began U.S. tire manufacturing in La Vergne, Tenn., in 1979. Since then, it has invested about $2 billion in U.S. manufacturingÃ¹which included its 1988 buyout of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
All this makes the new 20-employee tire-and-wheel venture look like small potatoes. But John Lampe, Bridgestone/
Firestone's chairman, put it differently when he announced the project: ·While this is a small facility, it is an important step in growing our business, especially with one of our most important customers, General Motors.Ã¶