Mixed bag ahead
The USTMA sees both challenges and opportunities in some key areas heading into 2021, Ms. Luke said.
"One is economic recovery and growth. The next would probably be modernizing the regulatory framework around tire performance and safety given all the technology changes that are coming in the transportation sector," she said.
Both electric and autonomous vehicles have different tire needs when compared with traditional vehicles.
Environmental stewardship and sustainability are other important matters for the year and the years ahead, she said.
"We need to take a really long-game approach and reflect upon the place our industry has in society and the positive impact we can have on society through the prism of those major transformational forces," she said. "We're taking a very big picture view."
Living through 2020 actually will provide some tangible benefits for companies that have adapted and responded to the crisis.
"In my career I have rarely if ever seen a confluence of people coming together to build a better future under these kinds of circumstances. Looking back on 2020, I see a lot of silver linings in terms of business response, adaptability, worker protection, changing business models in response to rapidly changing economic conditions," she said.
"Coming in to 2021, all of that positions us to be successful while navigating these transformational forces," she added.
The country's approach toward climate change also is expected to shift when the new president is inaugurated.
"I think that we are expecting, obviously, the Biden administration is going to be more focused on climate policy than a second Trump administration would have been. We can anticipate the United States will be rejoining the Paris Climate Accord immediately," Ms. Luke said.
And that opens opportunities for the tire industry.
"The tire industry and innovations in tires are critical to achieving a lot of effective climate-change solutions," Ms. Luke said. "Even something like tire rolling resistance can have a measurable impact on fuel economy, fuel consumption."
"There's already been a lot of work that's happened in our industry to promote CO2 emission reduction, and I think we can see a lot more of that in the next few years in partnership with the incoming administration," she said.
Last in, first out
A key concern among TIA members, Mr. Littlefield said, is the possibility that the federal government will do away with the last-in, first-out (LIFO) accounting method for inventory. This method results in lower tax liabilities for companies compared with the first-in, first-out inventory approach.
A recent survey of larger members of TIA indicates ending LIFO could cost each business millions of dollars in one-time federal tax liabilities as a result of the accounting change, Mr. Littlefield said.
"The problem is you have been using LIFO and doing it legitimately through the years. Why should you get penalized now because that one-time tax would be really big?" he asked.
Along with climate change, the USTMA also expects the focus on tire and rubber particles in the environment — created as people drive their vehicles — to continue to gain more attention.
"We as USTMA have intensely accelerated our engagement with the regulators, policy makers and research to help support the research that's being done, Including looking at generating tire and rubber particles under sound scientific conditions that researchers can study," Ms. Luke said.
The pandemic has brought about some opposing forces when it comes to tire usage in the U.S. that could continue to play out during the next year.
With more people staying at home, or closer to home, during the pandemic, the number of vehicle miles traveled has decreased. But counter to that has been a trend away from public transportation causing people who normally would not drive themselves to purchase vehicles, Ms. Luke said.
While COVID-19 brought the tire industry to its knees during the spring, the pandemic also provided an opportunity for manufacturers to show their mettle.
"We all know character is revealed in a crisis. I am very proud of how our industry responded this year. Our member companies put their workers' health first," Ms. Luke said.
"They repurposed manufacturing lines to make PPE (personal protective equipment) and contributed supplies to local hospitals and community organizations all while developing business strategies to keep their companies safe and healthy during the crisis."