AKRON—The expiration last September of the three-year run of elevated tariffs on Chinese passenger and light truck tires triggered an immediate resurgence in shipments of consumer tires to the U.S. from China and has spawned a bevy of new brands and companies marketing them.
That's the upshot of Tire Business' annual analysis of the tire branding scene in North America in 2013.
The end of the elevated U.S. tariffs last year resulted in a resurgence of shipments in the fourth quarter, pushing imports of passenger tires from China for the year up 32 percent over 2011 to a near-record 29.4 million units. (See chart on this page.)
The trend has continued into 2013, with passenger tire imports from China jumping 70-plus percent in the first quarter over the 2012 period to more than 9 million units, or an annualized rate of about 36 million units.
This stunning level of growth contrasts with the industry's overall growth prospects for 2013 and beyond. The latest Rubber Manufacturers Association forecast projects replacement market growth this year of only about 1 million units, or 0.4 percent, to 192 million units.
Should Chinese imports continue at the pace seen in the past two quarters, Chinese tires would represent roughly 18 percent of the U.S. aftermarket this year—up from 15 percent last year, when overall aftermarket shipments fell nearly 2 percent to just shy of 191 million units.
Import brands already control an estimated 26 percent of the U.S. replacement passenger tire market and 21 percent of the light truck tire aftermarket (see graphic, this page), while private brands are at 9 and 11 percent, respectively.
Tire Business has determined that of the 350-plus tire brands available to U.S. consumers, roughly 50—or one in seven—are owned/controlled by Chinese tire makers or trading companies and another 100-plus are private brands produced entirely or predominantly in China.
Even the major tire makers with U.S. manufacturing are sourcing a percentage of their tires from China, either from sister companies or via contract manufacturing.
Visitors to last year's Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas got a taste of the changing marketplace. At that event, more than 50 Chinese tire companies or their American representatives exhibited out of about 120 total tire company exhibitors.
Among the dozen or so new companies being founded to handle Chinese brands are: Aeolus Tyre Co. Ltd., Husky Tire Co. and ZC Rubber Americas.
In addition, established private and import brand marketing companies—including Tire Alliance Groupe L.L.C., Independent Tire Dealers Group, TBC Corp., Horizon Tire Corp., Del-Nat Tire Corp., etc.—are turning increasingly to Chinese tire company-owned brands for entry-level additions to their portfolios, etc.
A wrapup of some of these firms' recent initiatives follows:
China's Aeolus Tyre Co. Ltd. is setting up a U.S. operations base to oversee the launch of its Aeolus-brand passenger and light truck tires in North America. (See story on page 3).
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Tire Alliance Groupe (TAG) has added the Blacklion and AutoGrip lines to its private brand tire portfolio, which also includes Runway.
AutoGrip, manufactured by Fullrun Tyre Corp. Ltd., was introduced last year and is available in passenger, high performance and light truck tire sizes.
Blacklion, produced by Shangdong Jinyu Tyre and imported to North America by Husky Tire Corp., debuted in April in passenger, high performance and light truck tire sizes.
TAG is the exclusive distributor of both lines in the U.S, which are available in containerloads to its 15 members representing more than 2,000 locations in the U.S.
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Wholesale Tire Distributors (WTD) of Cerritos, Calif., has added the Saffiro private label tire to its portfolio—which already comprises the Winrun and Mayrun brands—and has opened a fourth warehouse, in San Diego.
WTD, a subsidiary of ATV Inc., which operates the American Tire Depot retail chain throughout California, owns the Saffiro line of passenger, light truck and medium truck tires, which are produced by various Chinese manufacturers, including Qingdao Fullrun Tyre Corp. Ltd. and Shandong Jinyu Tyre Co. Ltd. The distributor is adding three new models to the Saffiro line in October.
WTD also has exclusive distribution rights to the Winrun passenger and LT tire brands and Mayrun passenger tire brand in North America. This year the company is adding six SKUs to the Mayrun line, according to Dean Barnhart, WTD sales manager. The company no longer carries the Sunew line.
WTD, in business since 1991, opened a 20,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in San Diego in January. It also has warehouses in Las Vegas, Chicago and Fontana, Calif., and boasts a portfolio of more than 300,000 SKUs.
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Independent Tire Dealers Group (ITDG) has secured exclusive distribution and marketing rights for the Diamondback passenger and light truck tire brand in the U.S.
The ITDG disclosed the deal, with Husky Tire Corp. of San Antonio, during its recent annual meeting and trade show in Desert Springs, Texas. Husky Tire will provide logistical support expertise for the brand, which debuted in the U.S. originally in 2007 as a brand distributed by Zisser Tire Wholesale Inc.
Ed Long, vice president of sales and marketing for ITDG, said the Diamondback line “further complements our offerings and will help fuel future growth of the group when combined with our current program.”
ITDG, which comprises more than 400 points of sale in 31 states, reported record group purchases of more than $170 million, Mr. Long said, and volume-bonus payouts of $6.2 million. Combined, the member companies represent annual sales of more than $1 billion.
“We've had great success in growing our business by adding new members in new geographies over the past several years,” he said. “Independent dealers gravitate towards programs that are transparent and straightforward. ITDG has very little overhead to operate the group. Everything is pushed back out to the dealer with upfront competitive buying programs and bonuses at the end of the year.”
Mr. Long added that the Diamondback program is an example of ITDG's drive to partner with vendors on competitive programs.
Tequesta, Fla.-based ITDG did not say where the Diamondback line, produced in China, would be priced.
Diamondback medium radial truck tires are available through regional wholesalers and ITDG members with commercial operations, but many regions remain available, Husky Tire said.
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Horizon Tire Corp. is launching the Antares tire brand in the U.S., produced in China and available in passenger, SUV and light truck lines.
The passenger line includes speed-rated high-performance and winter fitments, while the light truck line is available in all-terrain and mud-terrain styles, Horizon said.
The passenger range is available in sizes ranging from13 to 24 inches in rim diameter and profile ratios ranging from 30 to 80, the Houston-based importer/distributor said. It also will offer the light truck/SUV line in rim diameters ranging from 15 to 21 inches in profile ratios from 30 to 80 series, while the winter “Grip 20” line will be available in sizes ranging from 15 to 21 inches in rim diamter.
The Antares brand derives its name from the star Antares, Horizon Tire said.
Houston-based Horizon has secured the rights to the brand name for the U.S., but declined to say who owns the brand name or to identify the manufacturer.
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TBC Wholesale Group has acquired rights to distribute in the U.S and Canada passenger and light truck/SUV versions of the Hifly brand, owned and produced by China's Shandong Hengfeng Rubber & Plastic Co. Ltd.
TBC is offering the Hifly brand to its dealer customers as a “competitive selection of high-quality products that cover key market segments and appeal to fiscally conscious” consumers, according to Jon Vance, director of product marketing.
The Hifly program initially will feature two all-season passenger performance lines, TBC said, and will be broadened in the first quarter next year with all-terrain and all-season SUV/LT lines.
The lines available now are: Hifly HF201 All Season Performance line featuring 29 popular T-, H- and V-rated sizes in 14- to 16-inch rim diatmers; and HF805 All Season UHP line featuring 14 W-rated sizes in 17- to 20-inch rim diameters.
The lines to be added next year are: Hifly Vigorous AT601 All-Terrain line in nine LT sizes from 15- to 17-inch rim diameters; and HT601 Highway All-Season in 18 metric and LT sizes in 15- to 17-inch rim diameters.
TBC obtained the marketing rights to the Hifly brand from Unicorn Tire Corp., the Memphis, Tenn.-based importer/wholesaler, which retains the brand registration. TBC is purchasing this product through Unicorn.
TBC did not identify Shandong Hengeng as the brand's manufacturer, but a search of trademark databases revealed that the Donying City, China-based manufacturer is the owner of the Hifly brand.
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American Pacific Industries Inc. (API) has formed a U.S. distribution joint venture with China's Shandong O'Green Group—O'Green L.L.C.—covering that company's O'Green brand of medium truck radials and steel truck wheels, according to Jeff Kreitzman, CEO.
API is handling the O'Green products through its existing sales network. The company also has morphed its Pegasus brand to the Advanta (light truck only) and dropped the Achilles and Armour brands.
The Valencia, Calif.-based distributor's primary brand continues to be Gladiator. It also handles the Minos, Vortex and Zenna passenger tire brands.
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Separately, in Canada, tire retail system franchisor OK Tire Ltd. acquired wholesale tire distributor/importer Asia Pacific Tires of Kelowna, British Columbia, but no longer is acting as an importer for the various brands Asia Pacific represented.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6145.