The distribution of tires from China falls into several categories, ranging from those Chinese tire manufacturers with their own import/distribution companies in the U.S. to those with designated independent importers/distributors—either with or without their own North American distribution assets (see lists on pages 21 and 24) —to those that ship containers to those customers with adequate lines of credit willing to take the risk of being labeled the “importer of record.”
Roughly half of the 350+ brands on sale in the U.S. are sourced from China, with roughly 50 to 60 of those owned or controlled by the Chinese manufacturer or a foreign trading company.
Establishing a brand name has become more important for the leading Chinese manufacturers, a strategy reflected in some companies' decisions to establish subsidiaries in North America and develop sales and service networks to back up their brands.
One example of building brand identity: TBC Corp. and Dynamic Tire Corp.—the U.S. and Canadian distributors of the Sailun brand—staged ride-and-drive events the past couple of years in an effort to show potential dealer customers that the Sailun brand performs equal or nearly equal to more well-known American, European or Japanese brands.
At these events, and in conversations with other distributors of Chinese brands, executives often repeat what's becoming a mantra for the Chinese industry: It's not that the tire is built in China, it's just that the factory — often among the most modern worldwide — happens to be located in China.
Without supplies from China, the private brand business in North America would be a shell of what it is today.
Delving a bit deeper into the import data, however, shows that nearly two-thirds of Chinese-sourced passenger tires are in 13- to 15-inch rim diameters — perhaps not surprisingly — but also that more than one-half of high-performance tires imported into the U.S. — tires with rim diameters of 18 inches and larger — are from China.