AKRON — A funny thing happened on the way to the anticipated revival of U.S. tire manufacturing — production fell in 2017 for the second straight year.
Despite billions of dollars of investment in capacity expansions, the opening of three tire factories in the U.S. in the past couple of years and record aftermarket shipments, U.S. output of passenger and light truck tires fell in 2017, according to the latest industry data from the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA).
This revelation plays out against record U.S. aftermarket passenger and medium truck tire shipments and a relatively flat year for imports.
At the same time, a new report from GfK Group states that U.S. tire retailers reported a drop of 5.6 percent in tire sales last year, including a 26-percent plunge in winter tire sales.
These and other trends can be gleaned from this year's Market Data Book, which is part of the Feb. 12 print edition of Tire Business.
In terms of U.S. production, it was anticipated that the commissioning of three new plants — Giti Tire Group's in Richburg, S.C.; Hankook Tire Co. Inc.'s in Clarksville, Tenn.; and Kumho Tire Co. Ltd.'s in Macon, Ga. — in the past 18 months would boost domestic production. Together these three plants represent nearly 20 million units of new annual manufacturing capacity,
In reality the U.S. industry collectively produced 1.1-percent fewer car (121.3 million) and 7.7-percent fewer light truck (26.1 million) tires last year than in 2016, according to the latest figures from the USTMA.
One possible explanation for part of the dip is the conversion of capacity at several factories to larger rim diameter tires, which can actually reduce a plant's capacity in units due to the changes in building and curing cycles. Tonnage output tends to stay the same or rise slightly, while the value of the output increases measurably.
Replacement car tire shipments grew slightly — 0.3 percent to a record 209.3 million units — but production and exports fell shy of 2016.
OE car tire shipments slipped 8.3 percent in 2017, reflecting a 4.2-percent drop in consumer vehicle production last year to 17.2 million units from a record 17.9 million in 2016.
The commercial segment, on the other hand, experienced growth in shipments, production, imports and exports.
Imports of passenger tires and medium truck/bus tires increased over 2016, up 0.6 and 5.1 percent, respectively, to 147.5 million and 14.6 million units, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.