WASHINGTON (Feb. 14, 2011) — Tire demand and production in the U.S. rebounded even more robustly last year than the industry's December forecasts indicated, with shipments climbing 10 percent and production rising 15 percent, according to the latest data from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).
Aftermarket shipments exhibited surprising strength, the RMA data show, with passenger tire demand rising 6.3 percent to 201.3 million units, light truck tire demand growing 5.8 percent to 29.1 million units and medium/heavy truck and bus tire demand jumping 22.5 percent to 15.6 million units.
Each category shipment figure is measurably higher than the forecast the RMA issued in mid-December. The organization has not released revised 2011 projections to reflect the higher 2010 shipments; at that time the RMA said “economic uncertainties” will temper growth in 2011 to the low single digits.
Tire production by companies with U.S. plants grew by double digits in all categories: passenger tires up 13.7 percent to 134.9 million units; light truck tires up 13.3 percent to 23.9 million; and truck/bus tires up 35.5 percent to 12.3 million units.
Despite the growth, U.S. consumer and commercial tire production of 171.1 million units last year was the second lowest in the past couple of decades.
Passenger tire imports rebounded even stronger than the market, rising more than 20 pecent to an estimated 121 million units, accounting for 60 percent of the aftermarket. Light truck tire imports rose 19.1 percent to 20.6 million units, or about 62 percent of the aftermarket, and truck/bus tire imports shot up 31.3 percent to 8.8 million units, or roughly 56 percent of the aftermarket.
Other key changes in the marketplace last year, according to the RMA, were:
+ a slight shift in the makeup of the light truck aftermarket in favor of manufacturers' flag brands and to the detriment of private brands;
+ a 1-percent drop in shipments of “traction and snow” tread-design tires to 8.7 million units and a corresponding drop in snow tires' share of aftermarket shipments to 4.3 percent from 4.6 percent.
+ growth in the share of the replacement market held by “national dealerships” both in replacement and light truck tires at the expense of “local dealerships.” National dealerships are defined as those with more than 40 outlets in three or more geographic regions; local dealerships have few than 10 outlets in a single regional distribution area.
Tire size popularity was relatively stable last year, both in the replacement market and at OE. The most popular aftermarket passenger size was P225/60R16 with 3.6 percent of shipments, while the No. 1 OE size was P215/60R16 with 7 percent of shipments.
The two most popular OE sizes — P215/60R16 and P265/70R17 — are the third and fourth most prevalent aftermarket sizes.
One size, LT245/75R16, is the No. 1 light truck size both at OE and in the replacement market, with 19.5- and 15.1-percent shares, respectively.
The same is true for the medium/wide-base truck tire segement, where 295/75R22.5 and 11R22.5 are Nos. 1 and 2 in both markets, where together they account for nearly 61 percent of OE and 51 percent of replacement shipments, respectively.