WASHINGTON — Virtually no growth is in the forecast for U.S. tire demand this year as lower original equipment shipments offset limited growth in the aftermarket, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
Replacement market demand is expected to rise in all categories, but only marginally over 2006, the RMA said. On the other hand, passenger and medium/heavy truck OE demand should slide from 2006 levels. The association said its forecast reflects moderate economic growth predicted for both consumer and commercial sectors.
Overall replacement market shipments should edge up about 1.4 percent this year over 2006, while OE shipments will fall 3.8 percent, leaving total industry shipments only about 0.3 percent ahead of 2006.
In individual categories:
— Replacement passenger tire demand will rise 1.4 percent to about 199 million units, with growth coming primarily from high-performance and P-metric light-truck-type tires, the latter for sport-utility vehicles. Demand in this sector should continue to increase about 2 percent annually through 2009 based on the steady rise in the number of vehicles registered and miles-per-vehicle traveled, the RMA said.
— Aftermarket light truck tire shipments should rise about 2.4 percent to 34.4 million units with continued increases through 2009 at an average annualized growth rate of approximately 2 percent.
— Replacement demand for medium/wide-base/heavy truck tires should be flat at 16.9 million units, but consumption will up in 2008 and 2009 at slightly less than 2 percent a year.
— OE passenger tire shipments are expected to fall about 2 percent to 47.3 million units, based on lower projected domestic vehicle production. Higher U.S. production beginning in 2008-and the rising popularity of crossover SUVs fitted with OE passenger tires, rather than light truck tires, are expected to have a positive impact in this category, the RMA said.
— OE light truck tires are expected to exceed 5 million units, a gain of approximately 1 percent over 2006. Future growth in this sector will be slight as consumers opt for smaller-sized sport-utility and light truck vehicles fitted with the P-metric passenger tires.
— OE truck tire shipments will be off as much as 21 percent this year to about 5.4 million units. Last year sales of commercial vehicles surged in anticipation of changes in Environmental Protection Agency diesel exhaust regulations, and pulled forward 2007 demand into 2006. Future growth is expected to be erratic because of additional EPA emission regulations taking effect in 2010.