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Published on September 9, 2002

Michelin takes over tire sales leadership

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Date Published September 9, 2002
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Groupe Michelin, via organic growth and despite unfavorable currency swings, edged back to the top of the ranking of the world's tire makers last year, posting 2001 tire sales of $13.4 billion, 1.7 percent better than in 2000.

Michelin's gains coincided with lower sales by Bridgestone Corp., the leader of Rubber & Plastics News' ranking of global tire makers the past two years. Bridgestone's well-publicized problems in North America left sales by the Bridgestone/Firestone companies in the Americas 4.4 percent behind 2000, holding down Bridgestone's global tire sales to $13 billion, or 5.8 percent below the previous year when expressed in dollars.

Michelin added about $100 million in new revenues to 2001 sales through two moves the previous year-the creation of Michelin Shanghai Warrior Tire Co. Ltd. in China and the purchase of two tire plants and retreading and retail assets in Romania from Tofan Grup. These actions helped offset a decline in the euro-dollar exchange rate.

No. 3 Goodyear also reported lower tire sales last year vs. 2000, down 2 percent to $12.5 billion. That occurred despite the extra sales volume generated in North America by Ford Motor Co.'s recall of 13 million Firestone tires.

Goodyear's unit sales fell 1.8 percent to 219.3 million, but internally the company claims this still makes it the largest tire maker in the world on a unit basis.

Assuming this is correct, Goodyear trails Michelin and Bridgestone in revenue per unit. The company addressed the situation in 2001 by maintaining a hard line on price increases and declaring it will walk away from original equipment business that isn't profitable.

No. 4 Continental A.G.'s sales declined, as the German company shifted production from high-cost locations in Western Europe to lower-cost sites in Eastern Europe. In late 2000 and throughout 2001, the company closed tire plants in Austria, Belgium, Mexico and Sweden and sold its NTS tire retailing operation in Great Britain.

No. 5 Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. fell into the red last year, although corporate sales increased 2.6 percent and operating income declined only about 11 percent. To help the company return to the black, Sumitomo President Misuaki Asai told shareholders the firm hopes to generate more than $55 million in profits by cutting manufacturing costs, personnel, capital investments and other expenses.

Sumitomo said its global purchasing alliance with Goodyear yielded nearly $50 million in cost savings vs. 1999. It expects further benefits this year as the firm's Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. subsidiary gains from the deal for the first time. Sumitomo also plans to set up production in China and expand its penetration into Southeast Asia with increased manufacturing in Indonesia and new sales companies.

From a profitability standpoint, Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. topped the charts. The South Korean company reported operating and net earnings ratios of 8.5 and 2.1 percent, respectively, nosing out Michelin (6.6 and 2 percent) for the honors.

Four of the 11 tire makers with more than $1 billion in annual sales were in the red last year-Goodyear with a $203.6 million net loss, Continental ($231.2 million), Sumitomo ($59.3 million) and Kumho Industrial Co. Ltd. ($223.9 million). Only Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. and Hankook improved their earnings in 2001 over 2000.

Collectively, these 11 companies compiled a loss of $90.5 million for the year, compared with earnings of $827.5 million in 2000.

Reflecting the global economy during 2001, sales by nearly two-thirds of the world's 75 leading tire makers either fell or were unchanged last year-including eight of the top 10. The overall estimated value of the global tire industry's sales fell 1.8 percent in 2001 to $68.5 billion.

Together, the Big Three tire makers accounted for $38.8 billion, or 56.5 percent of the global total, and the 10 largest combined generated $55.3 billion in sales, or 80.8 percent of the total. These totals essentially are unchanged from a year ago.

The makeup of the Top 75 was stable compared with last year, with only three new faces-China's Qingdao Huaquing Tyre Industry Co. Ltd. (No. 28), Russia's Kirov Tyre Co. (No. 66) and Malaysia's Silverstone Tyre & Rubber Co. Sdn. Bhd. Ltd. (No. 68). Dropping from the list are China's Beijing Tyre Factory, Jiangxi Tyres and Liaoning Tyres Group Co. Ltd. Additionally, No. 21 Grandtour Tire (Anhui) Co. Ltd. is the new name for Anhui Jia'an Tire Co. Ltd.

China leads the way in terms of national origin, with 14 companies on the list, the largest of which-Shandong Triangle Group Co. Ltd. and Shandong Chengshan Tire Co. Ltd.-have moved up to 12th and 13th on the list, passing India's MRF Ltd. and Taiwan's Cheng Shin Rubber Industry Co. Ltd.

India follows with eight companies, then the U.S. with seven, and Japan, Russia and Taiwan with five each. South Korea and Malaysia have three each, while Iran, Italy and Ukraine have two each, and 19 other countries have one representative each.