AKRON— By many business measures, 2018 was a record year for the tire and automotive service industries in North America, starting with record U.S. tire shipments and rebounding U.S. tire production.
After several years of marginal gains and drops in the passenger tire segment, replacement market shipments of car tires shot up 3.5 percent last to 216.7 million units, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) statistics for calendar year 2018.
That level of demand was met by both the domestic industry, which increased production 4.1 percent over 2017 to 126.3 million units, and imports, which were up nearly 3 percent over 2017 to an estimated 148.8 million units.
These and other salient industry trends are found in the 2019 Market Data Book, a 20-page section in this issue, starting on page 10.
The domestic output was the industry's highest since 2011, according to USTMA data, and is at least partially due to the ramping up of production by the U.S. industry's newest domestic manufacturers — Giti Tire Group in Richburg, S.C.; Hankook Tire Co. Inc. in Clarksville, Tenn.; and Kumho Tire Co. Ltd. in Macon, Ga.
Together these three plants represent nearly 20 million units of new annual manufacturing capacity. In addition, Continental Tire the Americas and Nokian Tyres P.L.C. have plants under construction in the U.S. (in Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively) and China's Triangle Group has cleared land in North Carolina for a pair of plants, all of which will add several more million units of new annual capacity by 2020 and beyond.
OE car tire shipments rebounded last year after a down year in 2017, rising 4.2-percent to 47.1 million units in a year when North American light vehicle production slipped 2.5 percent to just shy of 17 million cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks.
Sales of new cars, SUVs and light trucks/vans in the U.S. last year were slightly ahead (0.6 percent) of 2017 at 17.3 million units, while sales in Canada fell 1.9 percent to 2 million units.
Of the 17.3 million units sold in the U.S., 4.13 million — or 23.8 percent — were imported from outside of North America, with Japan accounting for nearly half of the imports, according to Automotive News data. These imports represent 16.5 million tires not accounted for in the USTMA OE data.
Taking into account the makeup of the imports, the Japanese tire makers Bridgestone Corp., Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd., Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. and Toyo Tire Corp. enjoy measurably higher OE market shares than those shown in the Market Data Book.
The rest of the 2018 car imports came from Europe (1.22 million units), South Korea (752,273 units) and "other" countries (108,946), the data show.
While the consumer tire segment's growth was notable, it was the commercial tire segment that showed considerable strength last year, with replacement market medium truck/bus tire shipments rising 9.2 percent, to 21.3 million units, and OE shipments jumping 21.9 percent to 6.5 million units.
Again, the rising demand was met by increased domestic production — up 2.2 percent to 14.4 million units — and imports — up an estimated 13 percent to roughly 16.5 million units, according USTMA and Department of Commerce data.