AKRON — If imports can be considered a barometer of U.S. economic activity, then the specialty tire sectors — and the industries they serve — enjoyed a healthy year in 2021.
The number of specialty tires imported last year increased by double digits over 2020 in all categories — agricultural, construction, earthmoving, industrial, recreational, trailer, motorcycle, etc. — according to data from the U.S. Commerce Department.
Since a relatively high share of tires in the "other tires" sector sold in the U.S. are imported, tracking import trends is considered a valid barometer of overall sector activity.
The value of specialty tire imports tracked by Tire Business totaled $2.53 billion in 2021, up nearly 25% over 2020, which in turn was slightly below the level tracked in 2019, according to Tire Business' analysis of the Commerce Department data.
By comparison, the value of passenger tires imported in 2021 was $7.7 billion.
The largest single category among the "specialty" tire types is ST-type trailer tires at just over 40 million units, the declared customs value of which was $990.8 million, up 26.7% over 2020.
The next largest categories, in value terms, are:
- Construction/earthmoving tires, 24-inch rim diameters and larger, which grew 14.1% to $377.7 billion last year.
- Treaded (herringbone) agricultural tires, valued at $305.3 billion, up 26.5% versus 2020.
- Solid tires, valued at $212.7 million, up 28% over 2020.
Despite being No. 1 in only one specialty tire category, ST trailer tires, China is the largest player overall in the specialty tire category, accounting for $815.5 million, or nearly a third, of the $2.53 billion in import value reported last year.
India is No. 2 at $361.2 million, with over half the total coming from the treaded agricultural tire category, where it's the largest source of imported farm and forestry drive-axle tires.
Among Indian companies active in this sector are Balkrishna Industries Ltd., CEAT Specialty Tires, Mahansaria Tyres Ltd., Speedways Rubber Co. and Yokohama Rubber Co.'s OHT business unit.
This sector has the most significant domestic counterpart, as Bridgestone Americas Inc., Carlstar Group L.L.C., Titan International Inc., Specialty Tires of America and Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas all produce farm/forestry tires in the U.S.
Titan, for one, is reaping the benefits of a strong U.S. agricultural sector. The company recently said it expects 2022 to be the strongest in Titan's history, "and we continue to see positive signs for demand to remain robust into 2023."