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Fisher: Farewell from commercial trucking frontlines

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Another big happening in the tire industry in 2002 was the merger of the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA) with the Tire Association of North America (TANA) (successor of the NTDRA) to form the new Tire Industry Association (TIA). The merger joined legions of commercial tire dealers with hordes of retail tire dealers, as well as tire manufacturers and other associated tire industry suppliers.

In 2002, Michelin introduced the long-awaited tire tag system. This technology, called eTire System, included the InTire Sensor, sidewall-mounted Sensor Dock, handheld or drive-by reader and BIB TRACK software that captures tire pressure, wheel position and maintenance information. The sensors could be installed in any brand of tire and the data is stored on the server and not in the sensor.

In 2003, China eclipsed the U.S. as the largest consumer of rubber in the world.

By 2007, tire manufacturers were dealing with the soaring price of oil and other raw materials. The result was price increases. Almost all Tier I and Tier II tire manufacturers announced price increases for truck tires that year. Despite these obstacles, 2007 was a fairly good year for tire companies. This was due mostly to the closing of high-cost plants, stabilization of raw material costs and tire price hikes that held.

Due to the high cost of fuel, which negatively impacted vehicle miles driven, both original equipment and aftermarket truck tire sales tanked. Goodyear idled truck tire production at its plants in Danville, Va., and Topeka, Kan., and Bridgestone cut production at its truck/bus tire plants through year-end 2008 to deal with impact of the Great Recession.

The big news in 2008 was that Bridgestone completed the purchase of Bandag Inc. for $1.05 billion to fortify its position in truck tires. It folded its Bridgestone, Firestone and Dayton lines along with its Bandag retreading operation into a single operating unit, which was then renamed Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions. Michelin completed the purchase of Oliver Rubber Co. from the Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

Once again, every commercial truck tire manufacturer in the U.S. raised tire prices three times that year, ranging from between 5% and 10%. The price of steel, carbon black, rubber chemicals, synthetic rubber and natural rubber escalated due to global demand, mostly from China and India. Retread prices increased as well, between 5% and 9% for each round of price adjustments.

By 2011, price hikes continued to be the bane of the industry as oil prices remained high, natural rubber prices hit new highs, and other raw material prices continued to escalate. Just about every manufacturer issued three or four price increases for both tires and retreads. The industry struggled to fill back orders of truck tires for both OE and replacement markets, prompting several companies to announce capacity expansion investments at their truck tire plants.

In 2011, Goodyear added new features to its Fleet HQ commercial business solutions programs, including a new, free app for smartphones, and launched its Uni-Maxx Truck Care on-highway truck service network, a nationwide quick-lube type of service for truckers located at travel plazas.

Not to be outdone, Michelin launched the Michelin Commercial Service Network, a franchise network of commercial tire dealers designed to provide a high level of consistent and quality service across the U.S.

The services offered included road service, online operating manuals and online fleet reporting. Over the year, this network grew by nearly 70% to approximately 200 locations. Michelin also opened its Advantage Program to owner-operators, which was originally designed for small fleets.

The year 2011 brought about a change in the direction of truck tire development. More tires were introduced to the market that were designed for specific applications.

The high cost of fuel made tire manufacturers look at reducing rolling resistance in all product offerings, but they also designed and manufactured products to meet the needs of specific fleet applications.

While a plethora of tires was added to the SmartWay-verified list from all truck tire manufacturers during the year, tire companies introduced numerous tires for long-haul, regional, pick-up and delivery service, mixed service, construction, refuse and on/off road (logging, oil fields and mining) applications. More companies introduced new wide-base tires, including Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear and Double Coin.

In 2016, Michelin introduced a full line of Uniroyal-brand medium truck tires to the U.S. market. Uniroyal truck tires hadn’t been produced since Michelin purchased Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire in 1989. Pirelli Tyre S.p.A made a huge splash with its announcement in April that it planned to sell truck tires in the U.S. and Canada through a new entity, TP Commercial Solutions L.L.C., as part of its global growth strategy.

Cooper purchased a majority share (65%) of China-based Qingdao Ge RUi da Rubber Co. Ltd. for $93 million for the purpose of providing additional radial truck and bus tires, including the Roadmaster brand tires, for the North America market as well as for Asia.

Continental broke ground on a $1.4 billion plant near Clinton, Miss., to produce consumer, medium truck and possibly OTR tires. The plant opened in October 2019.

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