The raw numbers are quite sobering:
* Every other replacement market passenger tire sold in the U.S. today is made outside the U.S.
* Three out of five replacement light truck tires sold in the U.S. are made elsewhere.
* Two out of three replacement medium truck tires sold in the U.S. are made outside the U.S.
Granted, taking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) factor into account-excluding tires made in Canada and Mexico from the imports-makes the numbers look somewhat better, but the reality remains: Shipment growth in the past few years in the U.S. has been fed almost entirely by imports, according to Tire Business' annual analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce and Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) data.
The situation in truck tires is the most startling. Imports grew 31.2 percent last year to 12.3 million units and now account for 70 percent of the replacement market here.
China's exports of truck tires to the U.S. last year ballooned 87 percent over 2004 to 4.52 million units, or 25.8 percent of all tires shipped to the aftermarket last year. Included in the total were Cooper-branded truck tires made by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd.; Cooper contracted the production in 2004 of up to 350,000 truck tires a year from Hangzhou.
Shipments from Japan-traditionally the No. 1 source of off-shore truck tires-slipped for the second consecutive year, falling 14.8 percent.
Truck tire imports from Thailand-where Bridgestone Corp. and Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. brought on stream new truck tire plants in the past 18 months-shot up sixfold over 2004, making Thailand No. 5 on the countries of origin.
Contrast the surging imports with the domestic situation: Production of medium truck tires in the U.S. slipped 0.1 percent last year to 15.5 million units and imports from Canada and Mexico also fell, pushing up the off-shore share of the market.
The average value of an imported truck tire edged up 3.2 percent to $116.05, with tires from Canada topping the value rank at $166.59 while those from Mexico were a third of that at $54.69. Imports from China averaged $90.16, up 10.1 percent from 2004.
Passenger tire imports topped 100 million units last year for the first time, eclipsing 2004 by 9.6 percent.
Again, China was the big story, exporting 46.5 percent more tires last year to the U.S. than in 2004, jumping ahead of South Korea for No. 3 on the import list and nearly pulling even with No. 2 Japan, despite that country's 20-percent growth.
Taken on their own, Chinese-made tires represented about 8.5 percent of the U.S. passenger tire aftermarket.
The average value of an imported passenger tire was up 10.4 percent to $36.71. Imports from Germany ($55.21), France ($49.78) and Japan ($48.29) topped the value list, while imports from Brazil ($22.15), Costa Rica ($23.45) and China ($25.23) were at the lower end of the scale.
The 9.6-percent growth in imports contrasted with a 4.6-percent drop in domestic production.
In light truck tires, imports were up 5.1 percent over 2004 to 21.7 million units, with China leading the way with a 23.1-percent increase. Again, the import increase contrasted with a drop in production at U.S. factories last year.
The average value of an imported light truck tire rose 8.6 percent to $51.84.
At the same time, U.S. tire makers exported fewer tires last year than in 2004, deepening this country's trade deficit in tires and related products by nearly a third to $4.7 billion, according to Commerce Department figures.
More than three-fourths of U.S. exports go to Canada and Mexico. Factor these out and the situation worsens even more.