WASHINGTON (Dec. 23)—A strengthening U.S. economy should boost industrial production and shore up consumer confidence, leading to 3-percent growth in tire shipments in 2003 and 2004, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association's latest forecast. Passenger tire demand in 2003 will be driven largely by the aftermarket, where the RMA sees annualized growth of 4 percent next year to nearly 198 million units and in 2004 to 205 million units, whereas original equipment shipments are expected to be flat next year after growing a healthy 7.3 percent this year to 58.5 million units. Light truck tire shipments to the aftermarket are expected to grow 6 percent annually through 2004 to 38 million units from 34 million this year, while OE demand for LT tires should grow 4 percent a year through 2004 to 9 million units. Replacement market demand for medium truck tires is projected to boost shipments by about 2.5 percent a year through 2004 to 15.3 million units after posting a 7.5-percent gain this year to 14.6 million units. OE demand for medium truck tires will be even stronger, the RMA said, pumping up shipments 17 percent annually through 2004 to more than 5 million units; OE shipments in 2002 are expected to end the year 8 percent ahead of 2001 at 3.7 million units.