AKRON — In terms of branding trends, the past year was relatively quiet for the North American tire industry.
Changes in branding came primarily via the merger/acquisition route — think Group Michelin's takeover of Camso Inc. and its basket of brand names — or shifts in responsibility for specific brands in the wake of rising U.S. import duties on products from China.
Among the more notable initiatives is Tire Group International's plan to broaden its base beyond Latin America/the Caribbean into the U.S. by adapting its Cosmo brand to include sizes and types for North American tastes and conditions.
- This article appears in the May 13 print edition of Tire Business.
Giti Tire USA recently announced plans to revitalize the GT Radial brand in North America, starting with new products in several key market segments, including grand touring, light truck/SUV and medium commercial.
The company, part of Singapore-headquartered Giti Tire Group, is banking on the growing tire capacity at its Richburg, S.C., plant to be the foundation for this initiative.
"We have plans over the next five years to introduce new products every year out of this plant," Giti North America CEO Tim Fulton said during a recent media tour of the plant.
The plant, Giti's most state-of-the-art facility worldwide, is producing about 8,000 tires per day now with an eventual capacity for 10 million tires per year.
Giti also is making plans for wider distribution of its Giti brand, which for now is primarily being used as an OE-dedicated line.
Other changes involving tire branders over the past year include:
• CEAT Specialty Tires Inc. adding the Altura OTR brand as an associate brand alongside its flagship CEAT farm and OTR brand.
• Gus Lima and Marco Zingi, principals of Oriente Triangle Latin America Inc., secured a deal with Turkey's Petlas Tire Corp. for North American distribution rights to the Petlas brand. To prepare for the deal Oriente Triangle set up a new company, Oriente Tire USA L.L.C. in Miami, and named David Halldane sales director.
While the new company exists, the principals involved don't expect tires to be available on a broad basis until 2020.
• Prinx Chengshan Tire Co. Ltd. — a former Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. joint venture — set up a U.S. sales office, Prinx Chengshan North America Inc., in the Los Angeles area late last year to support the launch of a new truck and bus tire brand in North America. The company tentatively indicated it would use its Fortune brand here but said other names were being considered.
The imposition by the U.S. of elevated import duties on truck tires from China earlier this year, however, has prompted Prinx Chengshan to delay the launch until it can get a plant it is building in Thailand on stream, according to John Aben, the former Giti Tire (USA) Ltd. and Nexen Tire America Inc. executive hired to set up the new company.
• St. Louis Wholesale Tire Inc. also struck a deal with Petlas to become the exclusive U.S. distributor for the Turkish tire maker's Starmaxx-brand ag and industrial-brand tires.
The St. Louis-based nationwide distributor of specialty tires and inner tubes is in the process of lining up new distributors in geographic regions for the brand, which it called the "best-kept secret" in the ag industrial tire world.
• Sutong China Tire Resources Inc. — importer of the Caraway, Cavalry, Hemisphere, Hi-Run, Long March, Lande, Pinnace and Road One brands — deleted "China" from its name, opting instead to go to market as Sutong Tire Resources.
• Route 66 Tire & Rubber changed its name to SWT Americas L.L.C., in reference to Speedways Rubber Co., the Indian tire maker that supplies much of SWT's farm, OTR and industrial tire product portfolio and is considered a corporate partner.
The Aledo, Texas-based company is developing a new website — www.swtamericas.com — which will link to the Speedways corporate site once it's launched. The company is developing growth plans, but they are not expected to take effect until 2020, a company spokesperson said.
• Tires Direct Wholesale, a growing Jacksonville, Fla.-based wholesaler, jumped into the branding arena by securing deals to import and distribute Pirelli-brand farm and OTR tires and Magna-brand OTR tires.
• Aftermarket diesel pickup truck modifiers Diesel Power Gear L.L.C. — a.ka. the "Diesel Brothers" — jumped into the tire game with the launch of the "Legion" brand, built by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
• Michelin North America Inc. is refreshing the look of its Uniroyal-brand tiger mascot.
• Continental Tire the Americas has begun using its Viking brand — seldom used in the U.S. but well-known in Europe as a winter tire product — for a new line of winter tires launched recently for the 2019-20 winter season. Conti acquired the Viking name in 1983 with its takeover of Norwegian tire maker Viking Tyres.
Some other new companies to surface in the past year include:
• East Coast International Tire Group Co. Inc., based in Maspeth, N.Y., and handling Annaite truck tires and Farroad and Wanli-brand passenger and light truck tires.
• Fury Off Road Tires & Wheels in Coppell, Texas, handling Fury-brand tires and wheels, predominantly in the extreme (large diameter) light truck segment.
A number of companies active in tire importing and/or distribution either faded from existence or went into hibernation this past year, including: ITA, a tire distribution arm of Itochu International; ITG Voma Corp., which handled the Capitol and other brands from China; and International Tires L.L.C., which handled a number of OTR brands.