It's too soon to know for sure, but it appears Pirelli Tire North America Inc. is finally getting its act together in North America.
After struggling to find its niche here ever since failing in its bid to buy into Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1988-and then subsequently buying the former Armstrong Rubber Co. that same year-the U.S. unit of Pirelli S.p.A. has returned to its roots. It is rebuilding the company the Pirelli way: by focusing on its high-performance heritage.
While many of its past decisions-such as buying Armstrong and aligning with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. to distribute its tires-looked good on paper, the reality is these efforts didn't work out as planned, leaving the company to start rebuilding once again.
Now Pirelli has put a sensible and realistic plan in place.
The company aims to build its business by securing original equipment contracts with U.S. auto makers and vehicle importers, selling tires exclusively through independent tire dealers and constructing a state-of-the-art tire plant that produces ultra-high-performance passenger and light truck tires using robots.
It also now is run by a strong management team, led by Gaetano ``Guy'' Mannino, someone who knows the Pirelli culture and understands the U.S. market and the independent tire dealer channel.
So far, the plan is working. After years of trying, Pirelli finally has gained its first original equipment fitments with U.S. auto makers.
The company now has contracts to supply tires to Ford Motor Co. for the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car, along with a number of other specialized fitments with aftermarket tuners.
It also is supplying its Scorpion Zero sport-utility vehicle/light truck tire, made at the company's Rome, Ga., MIRS (Modular Integrated Roboticized System) factory, for the new Viper-powered Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup.
And management hinted at the company's recent dealer convention and product launch in Atlanta that more domestic OE fitments are in the offing.
Dealers also are beginning to warm once again to Pirelli. Tire distributor and private brander Treadways Corp., for example, recently took on the Pirelli line with a large commitment, according to Treadways CEO Dan Wire, who attended the recent dealer meeting.
The MIRS plant in Georgia, which is up and running, so far is turning out ultra-high performance passenger and SUV tires at a rate of 300,000 units per year, with more production capability slated to come on-line early next year.
Mr. Wire may have said it best when he noted: ``What I think everyone wants of every supplier is high quality and consistency in all areas.''
If Pirelli can achieve that reputation in the U.S., it will really be on a roll.