If you listened closely on Akron's East Market Street Aug. 5, you likely heard cheers emanating from Goodyear's headquarters after the tire maker posted its first quarterly profit in a year and a half.
The positive numbers had been a long time coming and followed nearly two years of tough, often painful decisions, extensive and difficult cost cutting, employee reductions, plant closings, union negotiations, rethinking and repositioning.
While one positive quarter does not make a recovery, Goodyear now is clearly moving in the right direction, much to the relief of the firm's employees and tire dealer customers.
With a better cost structure, exciting products such as the new Assurance line spiking sales, new rubber in the pipeline and rejuvenated relations with its independent dealers, Goodyear appears positioned to keep its recovery going.
But the giant tire maker can't relax, even for a moment. Although its quarterly results were impressive, the firm's North American unit shipments still rose less than 1 percent from a year ago, and the company remains hamstrung by staggering debt. So there remains plenty of room for improvement.
And just as Goodyear's financial fortunes are rising, so are those of its competitors, in what we hope is finally a turnaround for the industry as a whole. The latest financial results point this out.
For the first half of 2004, Bridgestone Corp. posted a 3.7-percent jump in sales compared with last year and a 64-percent rise in net profits to $482 million. That has led the Japan-based tire maker to boost its net profit forecast for fiscal 2004 by 39 percent.
Meanwhile, Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. posted record second quarter sales and earnings and is experiencing such strong demand for its tires that it's struggling to fill orders.
France's Group Michelin saw its net income nearly double in the first half to $403.6 million as sales rose 6.4 percent, while Titan International Inc., the Quincy, Ill., maker of farm, industrial and specialty tires and wheels, posted a $5.64 million second quarter profit.
Even Nokian Tyres P.L.C., the small Finnish tire maker, has gotten in on the action, reporting an 18.9-percent rise in first-half sales and a huge 144-percent increase in earnings-both of which were buoyed by a 50.1-percent hike in sales in North America.
There's no question the tire industry remains as competitive as ever. But at least for now, that competitiveness is producing strong sales and higher profits for everyone, including the tire maker on East Market Street in Akron. And to keep the ball rolling, that tire maker must remain vigilant.