We call this annual issue the Global Tire Report, but we really could call it the Numbers Issue.
Pick out a page in our special report, and you'll find numbers. Lots of them.
From Bridgestone Corp.'s $24.992 billion in tire sales last year to retain the No. 1 ranking — slightly ahead of Michelin's $23.275 billion — to the $3.5 billion in capital investments tire makers committed over the last 12 months, to the $630 million of combined factory projects put on hold by Balkrishna Industries Ltd. and Qingdao Sentury Tire Group.
In fact, our charts listing every tire factory in the world have enough numbers to satisfy a city full of accountants.
What do they all mean?
If we can boil it down, it appears as if the sustained growth the tire industry has experienced over the last decade is slowing down. Tire sales remained flat overall, as most of the top five manufacturers reported either slight gains or small declines.
Group Michelin, however, seems primed to take over the top spot, buoyed by its $1.45 billion buyout of off-road tire specialist Camoplast Ltd. last year and the more recent $545 million takeover of Indonesian tire maker P.T. Multistrada Arah Sarana TBK.
They represent additional potential annual sales revenue of nearly $1.2 billion.
Most troubling, however, seems to be the suspension of two plants that had been planned for the U.S. Off-highway tire specialist BKT announced its plan for a U.S. plant just 10 months ago during a Tire Industry Association event tied to the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
Company officials from BKT expected the project to move fast — initial site selection began early this year — but the Indian tire maker more recently cited "business uncertainties" related to difficult macroeconomics and the "volatile" climate conditions for its decision to suspend the plan.
Meanwhile, Triangle Tire USA Inc.'s $580 million factory complex in rural North Carolina is still a go, but the original timetable of having the plant completed by April 2020 appears unrealistic.
The industry is sending mixed signals. Two U.S. plants, in Tennessee (Nokian Tyres P.L.C.) and Mississippi (Continental A.G.), will start production shortly, and Nokian just announced plans to build an administration building near its tire facility.
Should tire dealers be concerned? Probably.
The threat of more U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, coupled with the possibility of an impending recession, could signal a tightening market.
Craig Lewis, fourth-generation owner of Lewis General Tire near Rochester, N.Y., may have summed it up best when describing his commercial fleet customers.
"Everyone is little bit nervous," Mr. Lewis said. "People can feel that there's something not quite right. Everyone is still pushing forward. I don't see people in widely defensive positions or neglecting their fleet because their concerned about the future."
His tact seems wise, and we encourage dealers to do the same: "We're not neglecting our business because we're concerned about the future. We're continuing to invest, but keeping our eyes open."