Once states begin to open — Tennessee, where Bridgestone Americas is headquartered, was one of the first to do that — Mr. Higgins expects consumers to resume travel, ramping up tire demand.
While Bridgestone's commercial factories remain open — including truck/bus, farm and OTR tire plants in Aiken, S.C., Des Moines, Iowa, and Bloomington, Ind. — passenger tire plants will remain idled until at least the mid-May, Mr. Higgins said. Bridgestone plans to resume car tire production once auto makers reopen their plants and/or once governments clear them to reopen, adhering to strict safety measures as outlined in its recently developed Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability Playbook.
"We're anticipating, as car companies come back to into production, we're going to be coming back into production," Mr. Higgins said. "We're looking forward to that ramp-up as soon as everyone is ready, as soon as all safety protocols are in place and demand begins to pick up."
Bridgestone has been in contact with its OEM customers, he said, learning what vehicles they will produce initially so it can then adapt tire production schedules around that OE demand.
The stay-at-home orders initiated across the U.S. and Canada have had some benefits, Mr. Higgins said.
First and foremost has been staying in close contact with customers, wholesalers and dealers via video conferencing, as well as adapting to working remotely.
"In-person meetings are critical," he said, "but maybe we can touch bases more frequently through video (in the future).
"It keeps you closer. I'm optimistic that some of challenges we have in learning to work remotely here will let us work more efficiently coming out of this crisis."
Mr. Higgins also noted that consumers are becoming more comfortable with online activities as well as contact-less service, such as electronic appointments, curbside drop-off and a specific pickup time.
"That flexibility and planning is something they are really appreciating," he said. "...That concierge-type service could stay with us and could possibly create even more satisfaction among customers that we serve."
Mr. Higgins said Bridgestone has maintained contact with its dealer network — he said the company has released 12 online training courses over the last six weeks.
"We're trying to share with our dealers the things that we are sharing and learning and that we're hearing from other industries," he said.
His message to dealers: Stay the course.
"Let's keep that partnership. ... Be focused on customers and customer experience. As business starts to turn, all of us that are serving customers in a better way will be very happy with the growth that we're going to see and the satisfaction from our end users that will make our business successful in the months and years ahead."