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Published on September 4, 2006

Hey, big spenders: Part 1 of 2

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Date Published September 4, 2006
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The world's tire makers continue to invest billions on new production capacity, while shutting down older plants at a rapid pace.

>From mid-2005 through mid-2006, the tire industry has announced investments that will add 100,000 passenger and light truck and 10,000 truck tires a day to global capacity. Those projects will cost nearly $3.2 billion when completed by 2010, spending that is second only to the $4.5 billion disclosed in the 2004-2005 period.

This year seven tire plants are scheduled to start up, and another eight next year. That represents daily production capability of another 115,000 passenger and light truck tires, and 6,500 truck/bus radials.

At the same time, tire makers have shut down or earmarked for closing nine plants in the past year. That will take about 97,000 units of daily capacity for passenger and light truck tires out of circulation by the end of the year.

Asia once again accounts for the bulk of tire makers' spending, with nearly $1.5 billion earmarked for projects there, according to an analysis of the investment data. Europe will get nearly $1 billion in investments in the coming years, with the majority of spending in the region going to eastern Europe, including Russia.

Double-digit growth in spending

Overall, the world's major tire makers increased their capital spending during their most recent fiscal years about 12 percent. The expenditures/sales ratio rose to 6.8 percent in 2005-06 from 6.1 percent the year before and 5.5 percent in 2003-04.

This year Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. is the leader in announced capital expenditures, based on the $635 million it has budgeted for its passenger/light truck tire plant in Hungary.

Michelin is No. 2 with $532 million, divided among a dozen expansion projects at facilities around the world. Included in those plans are $100 million the company pledged toward its three BFGoodrich plants in the U.S. in the most recent contract negotiations with the United Steelworkers union.

Bridgestone Corp., which topped the list last year with $2.3 billion in budgeted tire plant investments, ranks third this time with $487 million from six projects. The Japanese company's highest single expenditure will be $258 million for a truck tire factory in Poland.

China's GITI Tire plans to spend up to $300 million on tire and steel cord plants in Anhui Province, and Pirelli & C. S.p.A. has budgeted $180 million to modernize the Yanzhou Evolution Tyre Plant in Shandong, China.

Kumho Tire Co. plans to spend $155 million in Vietnam to build a passenger/light truck tire facility. India's Apollo Tyres Ltd. has approved a five-year, $120 million project to build a radial plant in Tamil Nadu, in addition to acquiring Dunlop Tyres International Pty. Ltd. of South Africa for $62 million.

Far down the list is Goodyear, which has disclosed only two specific expansion/modernization projects in the past year, totaling $37 million. Goodyear's ability to invest is tied to several bank covenants. The company said its credit facilities limit the amount of capital expenditures it may make to $700 million in each year through 2010, according to its 10K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Goodyear further said if it is unable to make sufficient capital expenditures, or to maximize the efficiency of the capital expenditures it does make, the company might be unable to achieve productivity improvements, which could harm its competitive position.

Goodyear's capital spending the last three years has averaged 2.9 percent of sales-less than half the average of the industry's largest dozen or so competitors.

Big investment by Nokian

Nokian Tyres P.L.C. was the most liberal spender last year, doubling its capital spending during the year to 17.4 percent of sales. Toyo Tire was next at 11.2 percent after it boosted capital expenditures by 50 percent over 2004-05.

The following are projects undertaken by tire makers, listed alphabetically by company:

Apollo Tyres Ltd.

* $112 million over five years in two phases for a radial passenger, light and medium truck tire plant in India's Tamil Nadu state. Start-up capacity will be 75 metric tons a day, with growth to 250 tons a day in the second phase. Employment initially will be 500-600.

* $9 million to add radial truck and bus tire capacity at its Limbda/Baroda plant-adding 400 units of daily capacity-and generate $90 million in additional revenue annually.

Balkrishna Industries Ltd.

* $71 million to almost double capacity at its three tire factories in India-Waluj, which makes car, motorcycle and tractor tires; Chopanki, focused on tires for bicycles; and Bhiwadi, where the company's Govind Rubber unit makes car and motorcycle tires.

The project will expand annual rubber processing capacity 66.7 percent to 100,000 metric tons and double radial tractor tire capacity to 250,000 tires annually, according to local news reports.

JSC Belshina

* seeking investors to help it convert a bias-ply commercial tire plant in Bobruisk, Belarus, into one for making radial off-road mining tires. Belshina estimates the project will require about $60 million and take four years. Capacity would be expanded beyond the factory's current 16,000 tires a year, the proposal said.

Bridgestone Corp.

* $50 million over five years to upgrade the production capability of its passenger, light truck and truck and bus tire plant in San Jose, Costa Rica. Capacity figures were not disclosed.

* $17 million this year to add a fourth rubber mixer at its Aiken County plant in Graniteville, S.C. No production capacity figures given.

* $258 million truck and bus tire factory near Stargard Szczecinski, Poland, to start up in the first half of 2009. The plant will be rated at 5,000 tires a day at full capacity by 2011.

* $81 million for a 35,000 metric-ton-per-year carbon black plant in Altamiar, Mexico, to go on stream by mid-2008.

* $14 million for a technical center in Wuxi, China, to support the company's growing production and sales base in that country.

* $25 million for a tire proving ground in Yixing/Jiangsu Province, China.

* $42.2 million through January 2007 to expand capacity for high-performance and larger diameter tires at its passenger and light truck tire plant in Joliette, Quebec. Bridgestone didn't disclose the project's effect on the plant's capacity.

Ceat Kelani Associated Holding

* spending $3 million to add capacity at its plant in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, to make steel-belted radial passenger and light truck tires. Output is expected to reach about 25,000 units a month during fiscal year 2006-07.

Continental A.G.

* $70 million to $100 million over two years at its Mount Vernon, Ill., passenger and truck tire factory to modernize the infrastructure and upgrade capacity for more contemporary sizes. Included is $17.8 million for a tandem mixer to support truck tire production.

* $19 million at its Continental Matador S.R.O. joint venture in Puchov, Slovak Republic, to push output of radial truck tires up 57 percent to 2.2 million units annually.

Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

* investing $70 million to establish two joint ventures in China with Shandong Chengshan Tire Co. Ltd. to make passenger and truck tires.

GITI Tire Pte. Ltd.

* $300 million or more to build a tire plant and a steel cord plant in China's Anhui Province in the coming years. GITI, based in Singapore, said it will build a facility for steel-reinforced passenger, light truck and medium truck/bus tires with an annual capacity of 10 million units and a steel cord plant with projected annual capacity of 60,000 metric tons. The timing of the projects wasn't disclosed.