AKRON—Chinese tire makers, already the dominant players in the U.S. tire import/export arena, strengthened their position measurably last year, raising their exports of passenger and light truck tires to the U.S. 55.8 and 75.8 percent, respectively, over 2012.
Passenger tire imports from China exceeded 46 million units last year, an all-time high, accounting for one in three car tire imports and representing about 22 percent of all replacement market shipments during the year, according to an analysis of 2013 data from the U.S. Commerce Department and the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
Last year was the first full year of business for the Chinese tire makers since the expiration in September 2012 of the three-year run of elevated U.S. tariffs on imports of consumer tires from China.
The 46 million units imported last year eclipsed the previous high of 39.6 million, set in 2008.
Overall passenger tire imports rose 13.6 percent to 143.7 million units, shattering the previous record of 126.5 million set last year, Commerce Department data shows. The gain is due mostly to three countries—China, Indonesia (up 16.7 percent) and Taiwan (up 22.7 percent), which all recorded double-digit gains.
Those gains offset declines in shipments from South Korea (down 16.4 percent), Japan (down 8.7 percent) and Brazil (down 37.1 percent).
Considering the RMA estimated the U.S. replacement market last year at 199.1 million units, imports represented more than 70 percent.
The average declared customs value of an imported passenger tire last year fell 9.8 percent to $54.47, reflecting the surge in shipments from China and Taiwan, whose tires averaged $38.06 and $34.73, respectively.
By contrast, the average value of a tire from Germany was $109.63, according to Commerce Department data.
Imports of light truck tires from China shot up to 5.28 million units last year, contributing to a 17.6-percent jump in overall imports in this category, to 24.7 million units.
Canada remained the No. 1 source of light truck tire imports, at 9.51 million units, up slightly over 2012. Other nations to register double-digit gains in light truck tire shipments to the U.S. were South Korea (up 16.7 percent), Japan (up 31 percent), Chile (an eightfold increase), Indonesia (up 138.5 percent) and Taiwan (19.2 percent).
At 24.7 million units, imports accounted for more than 85 percent of the U.S. replacement market last year.
The average value of an imported light truck tire fell 6.1 percent last year to $81.01, with values ranging from $61.58 for a tire from Vietnam to $108.99 for a tire from Taiwan, the data show.
In contrast to the passenger and light truck tire categories, imports of medium truck/bus tires fell 4 percent, with eight of the top 10 exporting countries, including China, registering declines.
Imports overall fell to 10.2 million units, with shipments from China down 1.4 percent. China remained the dominant player in the segment, however, accounting for more than six out of 10 truck tires imported.
Imports account for nearly 65 percent of the U.S. commercial tire aftermarket, with Chinese-sourced tires taking as much as a 40 percent share.
The average value of an imported truck tire dropped nearly 10 percent to $184.31. Values ranged from $141.27 for a tire from China to $370.11 for one from Italy, the data shows.
Collectively, the value of consumer and commercial tire imports last year hit $11.7 billion, up just 4.5 percent over 2012. The trade deficit—value of imports minus value of exports—rose slightly to $7.72 billion as U.S. exports fell slightly last year.