It didn't take too long before the COVID-19 pandemic began to affect the tire industry in a way few thought possible: Factories across the world began to shut down.
Factories in China, Europe, India and other regions overseas were the first to suspend operations. Among the first affected was Goodyear, which announced on March 19 that it was suspending production in Europe for at least a month.
Once the virus began sweeping across North America, tire companies here had no choice but to follow suit.
Bridgestone Americas Inc. become the first tire maker to act, announcing plans March 19 to idle plants in North and South America.
Within a week, other tire makers followed suit, including Michelin North America Inc., Pirelli North America Inc., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Nokian Tyres P.L.C., Kumho Tire USA Inc., Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc., and Giti Tires (USA) Ltd.
By early April, Goodyear and Yokohoma Tire Corp. also shut down North American operations.
Plants began the arduous process of reopening in mid-May, particularly across Europe. But it wasn't as simple as flipping on the switch: All the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control had to be followed meticulously in order to help prevent further outbreaks of the virus.
Bridgestone, for one, developed an Environmental Health Safety & Sustainability (EHSS) Playbook to outline all measures that needed be taken at every location in North America before it reopened, in order to promote safety.
The playbook served as the blueprint for restarting operations in early April of Bridgestone's commercial tire plants in the U.S., then two weeks later the reopening of its Firestone Industrial Products and Firestone Building Products factories in the U.S.
The playbook includes several measures that likely will be part of the foreseeable future: Enhanced cleaning measures, educational information on social distancing and hand washing; changes to sick leave/absenteeism policies; job space guidelines; return to work screening; temperature screening; and masks and facial coverings.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride as you can imagine," Paolo Ferrari, who was named president, CEO and chief operating officer for Bridgestone Americas on Jan. 15, said. "It's not the beginning you would want to have."
By mid-year, most, if not all, plants were back in operation.