AKRON (Dec. 31, 2001)—Though perhaps not quite as momentous as 1492, 1776, 1812 or 1941, when history recalls 2001—certainly in the tire industry—it will go down as a year fraught with upheaval, change and blockbuster news.
Where 1941 had Dec. 7 and Pearl Harbor, 2001 had Sept. 11. In the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the U.S., tire manufacturers, dealerships and related businesses chipped in to raise millions of dollars for the thousands affected by the tragedy.
After years of keeping their respective distances, in November the industry's two largest national associations—the Tire Association of North America (TANA) and International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA)—got together. Their members will vote on the planned merger this month.
That story, while blockbuster in proportion, got headline competition from the on-going Ford Motor Co.-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tire recall saga.
On the dealer front, Heafner Tire Group was a headliner. The Huntersville, N.C.-based company decided it didn't want to be a retailer after all. First, it sold its 132-store Winston Tire Co. chain to Lafayette, La.-based Performance Management Inc., then later shed its 29 T.O. Haas Tire retail outlets to a small group of employee investors.
Michelin North America Inc. drafted a plan to deal with a lawsuit: Rather than go to court in a $10 million price discrimination suit filed by Atlanta-based DeKalb Tire Co., the tire maker bought the four-store dealership. The litigation went away.
Early in the year, Sears, Roebuck and Co. lopped off 53 poor-performing National Tire & Battery stores in 35 markets. About that time, Pirelli Tire North America said it would close its Hanford, Calif., factory—the company's last in North America.
Pirelli later broke ground on a new headquarters and tire plant, featuring its modular integrated roboticized system (MIRS), in Rome, Ga.
During the course of the year Michelin said it planned to reduce its work force by 2,000 over two years to cut costs by about $200 million.
Other firms made similar cost-cutting moves, including Goodyear, which announced plans to lay off 1,400 at five U.S. plants, and Bridgestone/Firestone, which closed its Decatur, Ill., tire plant. Meanwhile Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp. retained the top spot in tire sales worldwide.
The year also saw the longest tire industry strike end after Titan International Inc. and United Steelworkers Local 164 at Titan's Des Moines, Iowa farm tire plant ratified a contract after a 40-month impass.
Tread separation lawsuits were all the rage, thanks mostly to the Ford-Firestone recalls.
Litigation hit closer to a dealership's Chicago home in late September, when Cassidy Tire was ordered to pay $3 million in damages for putting all-season tires on a Ford Explorer. The tires didn't fail, but the vehicle rolled over. Earlier, Michelin sued Bridgestone/Firestone, alleging a conspiracy with Bandag Inc. to offer dealers illegal incentives.
Last January Goodyear parted ways with its longtime advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, then joined forces with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The two combined on a new campaign, replacing the “Serious Freedom” marketing effort with “On the Wings of Goodyear.”
Michelin got the nod in J.D. Power and Associates' consumer satisfaction surveys for both replacement and original equipment tires.
In addition to the companies and dealerships making news, plenty of individuals garnered headlines, too.
Marvin Bozarth announced in May that he was planning to leave his executive post at ITRA.
Tech International's president and CEO, Pauline Chambers Yost, 84, and her husband, Walter Yost, 80, died in a head-on car crash Sept. 1 near Johnstown, Ohio.
A Sioux City, Iowa, tire dealer, Ronald Earl Fish, 58, co-owner of Ben Fish Tire Co., was among seven victims of what was called one of that state's worst homicides last August.
In the awards department, Canadian dealer Eric Gilbert was named Tire Dealer Humanitarian of the Year by Tire Business.
Pam Fitzgerald, TANA's first woman president, and Lee Fiedler, former Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. president, were inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame during November's Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo trade shows in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, George Bishop was inducted into ITRA's Hall of Fame.
Dick Johnson became the new president of Heafner Tire Group, replacing Don Roof. Bob Meyers resigned as Wingfoot chairman and was replaced by Steve McClellan. And Steve Kessel stepped down as chairman of Continental A.G.