U.S. tire shipments this year are expected to fall 1.5 percent from 2002 levels as the economy's recovery remains elusive, though the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) anticipates they will rebound nearly 3 percent in 2004.
The gain in 2004 is likely to come from the high rate of light vehicle production, a rebound in the commercial trucking sector and a strengthening U.S. economy, the RMA said. The association predicts total tire shipments will grow about 3 percent annually through 2008 as the country's gross domestic product and industrial production index rise.
This year, combined original equipment and replacement tire shipments for auto and truck categories are expected to fall by 4.5 million units to about 304 million units. By 2008, the RMA anticipates the combined total will be 348 million units.
The RMA's Tire Market Analysis Committee also issued forecasts for the following segments:
* Original equipment passenger tires: Weakening buyer incentive programs and declines in light vehicle production of almost 300,000 units should push shipments in this segment down 6 percent to about 54 million units in 2003. A minimal 1 percent annualized growth rate is expected through 2008 as incentives sap future demand and new vehicle offshore imports increase.
* Original equipment light truck tires: This year could see an increase of 200,000 units, to 8.5 million units as the sport-utility vehicle market continues to grow and more SUVs are fitted with LT tires. Shipments will grow 3.7 percent annually in this segment through 2008 when shipments are expected to top 10 million units, the RMA predicted.
* Replacement passenger tires: While this year's shipments are not expected to reach far above 2002's 190.7 million-unit level, shipments in 2004 should grow about 3 percent to about 196 million units as many P-metric tires from the Firestone recall reach the end of their product life. The market is expected to exceed 220 million units by 2008 with annual growth of about 3 percent.
* Replacement light truck tires: This segment should decrease by 1.9 million units to 31.7 million units in 2003, but a rebound is expected in 2004. Through 2008, the market should have an average annual growth rate of about 4 percent, reaching 38 million units.
* Original equipment medium/ wide-base truck tires: Sales of commercial trucks are expected to increase through 2006, spurring tire growth of 7 percent-or 300,000 units-in 2003 shipments for a total of 4.1 million units. Growth from 2004 to 2006 is anticipated at more than 10 percent per year, reaching 6 million units. But tire shipments will decline to about 5 million units in 2008 as stricter emission standards go into effect in 2007.
* Replacement medium/wide-base truck tires: This market is expected to grow to about 14.9 million units in 2003 on the tail of increased industrial production. Growth will continue through 2006, when shipments should reach 15.8 million units. That level should remain through 2008, the RMA said.