AKRON (Oct. 23, 2013) — The Japanese tire manufacturer, back in the late 1970s, early 1980s, spent years considering starting tire production in the U.S.
Year after year Bridgestone officials would confirm only that they were "studying" the possibility.
In 1983, when sales reached a certain level, the company bought the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. truck tire facility in LaVergne, Tenn. Bridgestone followed that by buying all of Firestone in 1988. The barrier was down, the Asians were coming.
Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. followed shortly after, acquiring Mohawk Rubber Co. and its plant in Salem, Va. It also just began building another plant in Mississippi.
Another Japanese company, Toyo Tire & Rubber Co., opened in 2005 its first U.S. tire factory, in White, Ga.,
Now it's Kumho Tire Co. Ltd.'s turn, with the revival of a stalled tire plant project in Macon, Ga., and its South Korean rival Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. announcing it will build its first U.S. tire facility near Clarksville, Tenn.
And don't forget India's Apollo Tyre Ltd. Its tentative—and now troubled—proposal to buy Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. would give it three plants in the U.S.
A quarter century ago, it was European firms and Bridgestone jumping into U.S. tire production. The difference between the past and more recent times is the Asian tire makers aren't buying up distressed American manufacturers.
Instead, with the possible exception of the Apollo-Cooper deal, the Asian companies are opening new plants in this country. That bodes well for American communities where the factories are located, suppliers to the tire makers and people in the tire field.
Unfortunately for the United Steelworkers union, these facilities are located in anti-union Southern states. Also, the highly automated operations don't employ the thousands that once were needed at tire plants.
What does the future hold? Note that 18 Chinese companies are among the 50 largest tire manufacturers in the world, and not one has a presence in the U.S. Yet.
This editorial recently appeared in the print edition of Rubber & Plastics News, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.