NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A small investment could translate into big dividends for the world's No. 2 tire maker.
Bridgestone Corp. recently completed small capacity additions at several plants in North America—just in time to help meet burgeoning demand for products that serve the last-mile delivery, consumer and agricultural markets, according to Scott Damon, Bridgestone America Inc.'s group president of operations and the newly minted chief operating officer.
"We've been on a journey in North and South America of adding small capacity gains, so all of our consumer plants in North America have finished basically adding more capability around high-rim-diameter and technology stacks that drive differentiated performance," Damon told Tire Business.
The investments include:
- Adding 32,000 square feet of manufacturing space to accommodate new equipment at the tire maker's radial truck/bus tire plant in Warren County, Tenn. The expansion, a three-year investment of $40 million, increased plant capacity by 275 tires per day, bringing daily production to 9,400 tires per day.
- Adding warehouse space at its passenger/light truck tire plants in Aiken County, South Carolina (272,000 square feet) and in Wilson, N.C. (288,000 square feet), with an investment of $72 million;
- Adding 3,000 tires of capacity per day at its 38-year-old P/LT plant in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The $100 million investment included additional manufacturing space to accommodate new tire assembly machines, material-handling systems, curing presses and associated equipment.
Damon said the tire maker—ranked second globally with $24.3 billion in tire sales in 2019—will consider other options to meet growing demand.
"We will continue to look at our footprint and our supply chain, both in consumer (and) commercial (markets) post pandemic, to see proximity to customer base, how the supply chain strategy will move, and we'll look at that accordingly," Damon said. "That's constantly going to be under study for us."
Damon reports that Bridgestone, like other tire makers, has seen strong demand continue in the TBR segment, fueled by last-mile delivery vehicles, but also in other segments, including consumer replacement, agriculture and retreading.
In fact, he said, ag sales have been its strongest since 2014.
"We continually see that growing, where it has been somewhat of a declining market based on the demand," he said. "It's changed dramatically."
Business slowed, he said, in 2014 as new competitors from India entered the market, "so the supply and the capacity versus demand was keeping it from not growing as much as it could. It's really booming. That's a positive sign for all the agricultural suppliers."
The growth of retreading is another positive sign, buoyed, he said, by an increasing global focus on sustainability.
"There's a lot of tailwinds around sustainability," he said. "You're going to see Bridgestone play this broader role where the tire is still an integral part of it in a world that probably is going to move more fleet managed. It's going to have a higher element of retreading—retreading in markets that we don't traditionally think about, because you have a tailwind.
"You're going to see adjacencies there with this tailwind, and how it touches these end-of-life tire platforms where you're basically trying to get to a world that is carbon neutral and really 100-percent reusable materials in a tire. That's a broad vision, but I would say that entire circular economy touches those three platforms, and I think we want to be very aggressive there."
Supply issues continue to be challenging. With 22 manufacturing facilities in North and South America alone, each affected by shutdowns, furloughs and other difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridgestone has been trying to keep up with the increased demand across most segments.