Akron, Ohio — At first glance, the US consumer tire aftermarket displayed moderate strength last year, with replacement passenger and light truck tire shipments up 2.2% and 2.5%, respectively, over 2018.
What comes as a surprise, though, is that US-based tire manufacturers — despite billions of dollars of investment in new and expanded capacities over the past several years — did not seem to benefit from the aftermarket growth, according to Tire Business' analysis of new market data.
Passenger tire production by US manufacturers fell 3%, while imports of passenger tires rose 3.8%, according to the latest data from the US Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) and the Department of Commerce.
Car tire imports rose overall despite a 66.7% drop in shipments from China, Commerce Department data show.
For the first time since the 1990s, China was not included among the top 10 nations of origin for imports last year.
Thailand has assumed the role as the No. 1 source of imported tires, shipping 37.3 million units last to the US, a 10.2% jump over 2018.
South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia and Canada round out the top five.
The USTMA didn't offer an explanation for the production decline — which comes despite the opening of new car tire plants in recent years by Giti Tire Group, Hankook Tire Co. Ltd., Kumho Tire Co. Inc. and Nokian Tyres plc.
There are, however, a few mitigating circumstances that help explain the situation.
Most of the established US-based tire producers have been shifting their passenger car emphasis to larger-sized tires — those with 17-inch and larger rim diameters.
This change that can reduce an individual factory's unit-output capacity owing to the need for larger moulds and longer cure times.
Car tire imports from Mexico increased nearly 19% — or 2.2 million units — last year over 2018, Commerce Department data show.
Goodyear, Bridgestone Americas, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Continental Tire the Americas, JK Tyre Industry and Michelin Group have factories in Mexico.
In the light truck tire category, aftermarket shipments rose 2.5% to 32.5 million, and both production and imports increased by more than 5% to 26.7 million units.
In the medium truck/bus tire category, reported aftermarket shipments fell 13.3% to 18.9 million units.
The decline was skewed by abnormally high shipments in 2018 as importers sought to stockpile Chinese-sourced tires ahead of the imposition of elevated import duties by the US government on Chinese products.
In 2018, imports of truck/bus tires from China shot up 42% to a record 9.22 million units then sank precipitously (65.4%) this past year to 3.19 million units, the lowest level in years.
US truck/bus tire production rose 2.1% last year to 14.7 million units but new capacity being built by Continental in Mississippi should help the overall supply situation.
Overall truck/bus imports last fell 13.5% last year to 14.8 million units as increased imports from Thailand (up 89%), Vietnam (up 108.1%), South Korea (57.6%), Spain (50.2%) and India (156.1%) couldn't offset the sheer volume of tires not shipped from China.