Imports will continue to rule in the niche market of trailer tires for camping and boating customers, according to participants in the field.
No one knows for sure how many trailer tires are imported versus manufactured in the U.S. But like other high-volume tires, trailer tires tend to bring low margins, according to Jeff Kreitzman, CEO of American Pacific Industries Inc.
Kreitzman estimates the U.S. replacement ST, or Special Tires, trailer tire market consists of 6 million to 10 million units.
API has trailer tires made for it by an undisclosed tire manufacturer at its Qingdao, China, plant, but Kreitzman declined to comment on how many units are imported or sold in the U.S.
API plans to launch its own ST trailer tire line in the Gladiator brand next spring, Kreitzman said. Currently, API sells Gladiator-brand medium truck and earthmover tires.
"We have a pretty good customer base in (Gladiator)," he said. "We figure it´s a natural fit."
Loosely defined, ST trailer tires are used in a variety of towing applications, including boat, utility and travel trailers, said Tim Landis, vice president of aftermarket and replacement tire sales for Long Beach, Calif.-based Greenball Corp.
Competition in the U.S. trailer tire market has driven prices for the products down and lowered profitability, Kreitzman and Landis both said. However, Landis said Greenball is seeing its radial ST trailer tire business growing as more original equipment manufacturers are preferring radials to bias-ply because of radials´ greater load carrying capacity and smoother ride. He declined to disclose sales.
Greenball imports its Towmaster and Transmaster trailer tire brands from Indonesia, Taiwan and China, Landis said.
Other companies that supply ST trailer tires are Goodyear, Titan International Inc., Maxxis International Inc., Carlisle Tire & Wheel Co. and American Kenda Rubber Industries Co. Ltd. Of those firms, Goodyear and Maxxis both said they manufacture their trailer tires in Asia, but neither would say at which plants.
Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan chairman and CEO, recently said that except for a few contracts with trailer manufacturers, Titan is out of the trailer tire business.
The travel trailer and camper manufacturing industry reported revenues of $9.28 billion in 2006 with a 15.9 percent gross profit. These numbers reflect sales in all trailer segments, including those that would not use ST-type tires.
In the boating trailer sector, research firm Statistical Surveys Inc. tracks boat trailer registrations in all states and noted that new registrations fell 34 percent to 64,898 units through May 31 compared with the year-ago period. New boat trailer registrations at year-end 2006 totaled 204,405 units, down from 223,978 in 2005, according to Randy Lemasters, sales and marketing manager for Statistical Surveys.