MUMBAI, India—While India is in the grip of a second wave of COVID-19, a sampling of tire makers in the country say operations continue to run smoothly.
Even with the dire pandemic statistics coming out of the world's second-most populated country, Balkrishna Industries Ltd. (BKT), Ceat Ltd., and Sun Tyre & Wheel Systems all report operations continue.
Sun-TWS reported operations at 100 percent capacity while BKT said operations are "running smoothly with an average of 95 percent capacity." Ceat, meanwhile, said it is following all safety protocols and running at "optimum capacity."
India reported 4,529 COVID-19 deaths on May 18, the highest daily total for any country reported to date. With more than 25 million cases and 283,000 deaths as of May 19, the country is struggling to provide health care to those in need.
Managing Director Rajiv Poddar of Mumbai-based BKT wrote a letter to industry stakeholders—issued to refute rumors that tire production had been impacted by COVID-19—in which he said production has not stopped at any plant site and no disruption is expected "in the near future."
"In case there is any disruption, you would hear it first from BKT as an official communication," Poddar wrote. "Although seemingly under control, the current situation is not very optimistic in terms of record number of cases reported or the related medical shortages.
"The situation on the ground is dire. Fortunately, our team in India and around the world, is safe and constantly striving to keep the business at the normal levels."
Mumbai-based Ceat noted that the government of Maharashtra (the state where the plants of Ceat Specialty Tyres are located) has imposed a lockdown, but for industrial units like Ceat, "the government has granted a special exemption."
"We are following all the laid-out protocols and ensuring that all our plants are operating at optimum capacity, with the endeavor of serving our customers in the best way possible," said Vijay Gambhire, CEO of Ceat Specialty Tyres.
Ceat Specialty Tyres is a division that makes off-the-road tires, including agricultural and industrial tires sold in North America.
"We are working with the government and various support organizations to help the community in fighting the pandemic."
BKT said it is relying on flexibility to make it through the latest wave to hit India.
"As a resilient organization, we have extensive experience in planning for and responding to a wide variety of situations," Poddar wrote. "Our teams are closely monitoring developments in the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and are taking the appropriate steps to help maintain the ongoing health and safety of our employees and customers."
He also indicated BKT continues to put "customers first, in teaming and working together for the best outcomes, in deciding and acting in a way that makes an impact, and in learning and adapting so that we can help our employees and customers adjust to this situation."
Sun-TWS factories in India continue to operate at 100 percent capacity, according to Ken Cooper, senior vice president of the company's North America operations, but the latest wave of COVID-19 certainly is impacting the company and the entire country.
Sun-TWS, which has four off-the-road tire plants in India, has instituted a variety of safety precautions allowing manufacturing to continue, he said.
"They test the factory workers every day and throughout the day for temperatures. They've put a lot of (physical) divisions within the plant to separate the workers," Cooper said on May 14. "We are maintaining as big of a distance as possible within the plants."
Sun-TWS routinely disinfects its facilities to help keep its workers safe, he said.
"The biggest impact that it's made is that all the upper management are still at home. They are talking to each other online, or on the phone or in Zoom meetings. Most of the non-essential office people are at home. Some of the essential office people are at work, but they are very distanced," Cooper said.
Employees are being given as much time off as they need to attend funerals or help with the care of sick family members, he added.
"I would say there is not one person within the white-collar part, both the white collar and blue collar, that hasn't had a family member die because of this pandemic. It's been really rough in India as you well know," he said.
Sun-TWS has about 800 employees, including about 400 at four factories in India. The Chennai, India-based company also operates three factories in Sri Lanka that have not been as impacted as much by COVID-19 compared with India facilities, Cooper said.
The senior vice president is based at the company's North America headquarters in Dalton, Ga., where Sun Tyre also has a warehouse. Sun-TWS also has a warehouse in Los Angeles.
Sun-TWS factories in Sri Lanka also have instituted safety precautions including temperature checks, but those locations have not needed to install physical barriers between employees, he said.
While the COVID-19 virus has not directly caused work to slow in India at this point, there have been some indirect challenges due to transportation difficulties being experienced around the world.
Sun-TWS relies on steel imported from China for its products and there has been some difficulty with that supply chain. Other raw materials needed for the company's OTR tires are sourced domestically.
While both BKT and Sun-TWS said they are overcoming COVID-19 related issues, there is another problem that is impacting operations.
"We are experiencing tremendous problems just like everybody else," Cooper said about Sun-TWS, "but they are not as much COVID-related as they are this port situation. We are struggling just like everybody else to get containers shipped and arrived on time. But that has nothing to do with COVID."
Poddar added raw material issues and container availability "are two major factors contrasting with our production/shipment plans."
He said he was motivated to write the letter "to assure you about production and business continuity at our end; and to alert you of any misleading or fake rumors being spread."
While Apollo Tyres did not respond for comment, the company did indicate in a May 20 stock market filing that its Preambra plant was scheduled to resume operations May 21.
The facility previously had been directed to close by district government officials and company officials earlier expected to reopen May 23. Permission to resume two days earlier was then granted by the government.