March 3, 2014 10:00 AM, EST

Vocational Tire Sales Depend on Economy

Alliance Tire Group
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Editor’s note: This is a sidebar to the story, ‘Traction Is Most Important Characteristic for Off-Road Tires, Fleet Executives Say.’

National sales data for off-road tires aren’t available because, compared with on-road tires, so few are produced.

However, Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association, said sales of vocational tires number in the hundreds of thousands per year, versus hundreds of millions in the passenger and light-truck markets.

Sales of off-road tires are heavily tied to the economy, manufacturers said. As the economy has made a meager recovery from the recession, sales have returned to traditional levels.

“Our recovery is based a lot on our customers’ recovery when you get right down to it,” said Gary Enterline, product category manager for Michelin. “A lot of people are coming back and rebounding from the recession, and as a result, so are we.”

Construction-tire producers depend on the new-housing market, which also is recovering from the recession. This is having a positive effect on tire sales in the forestry industry, which depends on construction.

However, mining still is struggling economically. But Bruce Besancon,  vice president of marketing for Alliance Tire Americas Inc., said the slowdown in coal could be offset by increased activity in oil and natural gas.

And Enterline said tire sales to the military have decreased as U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the Middle East has slowed.

On the other hand, cost-cutting measures during the recession have created a backlog of infrastructure projects. “If governments start allocating money to those projects,” Besancon wrote, “it could be great for the construction industry and the tire market that serves it.”

Moreover, strong global demand, particularly for the largest 63-inch rim diameter tires used with earthmoving equipment, has helped sales.

Bridgestone’s Roger Best said his company’s versions of those tires are capable of supporting 400-ton dump truck payloads. They weigh 12,000 pounds each and can cost about $70,000 per tire.

To accommodate demand, Bridgestone — whose giant loader tires

are the company’s main off-road export — is opening a plant in South Carolina.

Michelin already has opened a plant in South Carolina to produce these tires. The company said 80% of them will be exported.