Last year brought uncertainty. This year brings the same. And hope.
There are many questions and opinions surrounding the market for off-the-road (OTR) tires, as there are in life, as 2021 begins to unfold amid the continuing pandemic.
Times are anything but normal as vaccines begin to roll out around the country, but uncertainty about supply and distribution as well as skepticism by some means this year remains clouded regarding a return to normal life.
At the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the trade group had to cancel its annual OTR Tire Conference, scheduled for February at a resort near Tucson, Ariz., due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
Nevertheless, TIA President Dan Nothdurft said he sees 2021 as being a good year for that particular segment of the tire market — and the market as a whole, for that matter.
"For the entire Tire Industry Association, it's going to be an up year. For the OTR business, I think it's going to be business as usual. There's a lot of growth coming out of the western segment of the country," he said.
Last year "ended up decent for the most part, …" Mr. Nothdurft said. "We were all in uncharted water and didn't know where the market was going."
With those experiences now under the industry's belt, the TIA president expects the OTR segment "to be really good this year."
Mr. Nothdurft pointed to different factors that could impact how the OTR market performs in 2021, including the possibility of a significant federal infrastructure bill coming out of the White House. If Congress can agree, that could free up additional money to help boost the economy, including industries using OTR tires.
While infrastructure is one area that's seen as a potential, or even probable, area of growth, mining is a little murkier. That's because it remains unclear what actions the new Biden administration could take in terms of regulating the industry and the potential impact, he said.
Mr. Nothdurft said it will be "business as usual" until it's not.
"There's some uncertainties in that area," he said, "but for the most part, I think OTR is going to be fantastic."
For Ty Smith, vice president of OTR sales and operations at McCarthy Tire Service of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., 2020 was demanding.
"Last year was a challenging year. With the COVID issues, just actually getting product to customers was very tough," he said, "and it's basically the same this year.
"Obviously, our overall business has been off. The earthmover part of our business grew, but it was basically due to acquisitions."
McCarthy Tire Service acquired 13 GCR Tire commercial locations and three retread plants in 2019 from Bridgestone Americas, and the added sales from those sites helped boost OTR tire numbers throughout 2020, Mr. Smith said.
"This year, coming up, who knows? This election. I don't know. And I hate to say that, but the election itself, we just don't know what the new administration is going to be," he said. "We don't know stimulus money. We don't know what they are going to do as far as the infrastructure."
If additional federal stimulus money does get pushed through, Mr. Smith said, "it will definitely help the industry. It is definitely much needed."
McCarthy Tire Service saw business hold steady through May last year before seeing a dropoff in June and July. The last five months of the year were fairly steady, he said, although December brought a boost for the business as some customers were in the position to pre-buy tires in 2020 to get cash off the books for tax purposes.
"I think for the whole, business was off 15 to 20%. That's commercial and OTR. Our business, personally, was pretty strong in the earthmover. We had a decent year. I'm on several different boards with dealers, and it was pretty much across the board a 15 to 20% (decline)," Mr. Smith said.