Light and medium truck tire production fell to 20.9 million and 11.6 million units, respectively.
By contrast, the U.S. replacement market last year performed remarkably well, the USTMA data show, with demand in the second half of the year staging a healthy comeback to end the year down 8.4% to 203.8 million units.
Aftermarket shipments of light and medium truck tires actually grew last year, by 1.2% over 2019 — to 32.9 million and 19.2 million units, respectively — reflecting the boom in the last-mile delivery business as the nation's sequestered populace embraced online shopping.
This heightened demand for light truck tires was met in part by higher imports, which were up 4.5% over 2019 at 27.9 million units, driven predominantly by increased shipments from Taiwan (up 30.6%), Japan (up 24.8%), Costa Rica (up 13.3%) and Canada (up 11.9%).
Demand also was met by stockpiled tires, although reserves slowly ebbed throughout the year, creating shortages in specific products and/or sizes. This led eventually to a round of price increases toward year-end.
While shipments of replacement passenger tires slid 8.3%, certain categories within the passenger category showed resilience, such as V- and Z-rated high-performance tires, shipments of which increased slightly over 2019.
Shipments of winter/traction tires fell 15% last year, for the fourth time in five years, and now account for less than 2% all replacement car tire shipments. By contrast, winter tires represent over 35% of aftermarket car tire shipments in Canada.
Replacement market demand in Canada fared worse than in the U.S., according to Tire and Rubber Association of Canada figures. Shipments of passenger, light truck and medium truck tires fell 17.5%, 16.3% and 12.9%, respectively.
The market recovery throughout the year was reflected in the USTMA's market forecasts issued after the declaration of a pandemic and the resultant economic turmoil.
In April, for example, the USTMA forecast car, light truck and medium truck tire demand would drop 17%, 16% and 7% in 2020 from 2019. By August the decline forecasts had "improved" to 15%, 12% and 5%, and by year-end had eased again, to 10%, 2% and 2%.
The trade group, which represents 13 member companies operating 58 tire factories in 17 states, has yet to issue a forecast for 2021.
On the OE side, shipments were down double digits in the passenger (19.6%) and medium truck (27.6%) categories as well as off 8.7% in light trucks, reflecting double-digit drops in sales (14.4%) and production (18.9%) of new consumer vehicles last year.
Sales of new cars, SUVs and light trucks/vans in the U.S. and Canada fell year fell 14.4% and 20%, respectively, according to Automotive News data.
Of the 14.7 million vehicles sold in the U.S., 3.51 million — or 24%— were imported from outside of North America, with Japan accounting for 44% of the imports.
These imported consumer vehicles represent roughly 14 million tires not accounted for in the USTMA OE data.
Exports also fared poorly last year, off double digits in all the major categories — down 23.1%, 19.5% and 27.8%, respectively, according to the USTMA.
Turning to the international trade side of the equation, imports of passenger and truck/bus tire tires fell 8.6% and 11.2%, respectively, while imports of light truck tires grew by 4.5%.
Thailand held the top spot in all three major categories among countries exporting tires to the U.S. for the second straight year and strengthened that position in all three categories.
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