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Market Trends

Rising Tire Prices Take a Bite Out of Fleet Budgets

January 4, 2012, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

By Mike Antich

The prices of replacement tires have increased an average 6-9 percent per year for fleets.

"In the past four years, the cost to replace four tires has risen about $150," said Steven Anderson, senior sourcing specialist/fleet management for Sentry Insurance. During this period, there have been multiple price increases from all major tire OEMs, especially for truck and commercial tires.

"Tire prices continue to rise, so managing that aspect of our fleet is critical," said Mike Speer, senior director of facilities and fleet for Schwan's Home Service, Inc. "We are managing these costs through negotiations with tire suppliers, a proper tire inflation campaign, and testing different tires to determine the best option for our fleet."

During 2011, tire prices increased at a higher rate than inflation, particularly for commercial trucks. Despite much higher retail tire prices, tire pricing for fleets have risen at a lower rate because of pre-existing fleet account pricing agreements. When tire pricing does change - typically on an annual basis - adjustments are made, but not at the level seen on the retail side. However, it would be shortsighted to believe fleet vendors will indefinitely absorb tire cost increases without fully passing them on to fleet customers.

"The tire companies will take a tremendous amount of grief from their dealers if they don't hike prices to their fleet and OE customers, so I can't imagine them not raising prices," said Greg Smith, publisher of Modern Tire Dealer (MTD) magazine.

Commodity Prices Dictate Tire Prices

One reason for the series of price hikes is due to increases in the cost of raw materials, especially the high cost of oil, a primary ingredient to manufacture tires. In addition, the world's rubber supply will likely become more constrained due to increased global demand, putting upward pressure on prices.

The increased cost of raw materials impacts not only tire OEMs, but also the tire retreading industry.

"Retreaders are finding tread rubber costs rising, but the amount of tread rubber applied in retreading is much smaller than that used in the manufacture of a new tire, regardless of the size," said Harvey Brodsky, managing director for the Retread Tire Association (RTA).

In addition, longer in-service periods for fleet vehicles are resulting in additional tire wear-and-tear. This extended vehicle utilization exposes fleets to additional tire costs over the lifecycle of a vehicle. Another reason for price increases is the ongoing proliferation to ever-larger tire diameters by new-vehicle manufacturers. The trend to larger diameter tires is broadbased, occurring on many models in the compact, intermediate, and minivan segments, which have increased the manufacturing costs.  

Supply and demand for raw materials is also influenced by the overall global market for tires. For example, there are more than 1 billion tires manufactured annually in 450 tire factories around the world. Almost 60 percent of the world's rubber is consumed by the global tire industry, with the remainder purchased by the general rubber products sector.

Increased global demand for tires is being fueled by the increasing volume of vehicles produced in China, South Korea, and India. There was a 6-percent increase in world auto sales in 2011, which was on top of a 10-percent increase in 2010. This year-over-year growth has led to a sharp increase in tire demand, with raw material suppliers struggling to keep pace. Global rubber production is forecasted to continue to lag behind OEM demand, which will add upward pressure on tire prices. A silver lining is ongoing improvement in tire quality, which has resulted in longer wear life. Tire life has been extended by 10 percent during the past 10 years, helping offset some of the recent price increases.

Price Increases on the Horizon

Some tire industry experts foresee another round of tire price increases during calendar-year 2012. In the past, national account tire manufacturers have done their best to shield the fleet industry from price increases by holding prices for a 12-month period. Although financially able to absorb the cost "inflation" of producing tires in the past, there is concern that vendors will no longer be able to continue to absorb these increases. Industry consensus is that prices will increase, but the degree of increase will be heavily influenced by the future cost of oil and the vitality of the overall national economy. On the other hand, declining oil and commodity prices, along with a sluggish national economy, will put downward pressure on replacement tire costs.

"Dealers believe that tire prices will come down due to soft demand, lower raw material costs, and the coming elimination of Chinese tariffs. Some raw materials have indeed declined, but, because of FIFO accounting, most manufacturers will probably not see any bottom-line benefit from today's lower costs until second quarter 2012 and, as such, I expect tire prices to remain firm for at least the next several months," said tire industry analyst Saul Ludwig in a recent MTD article. "Manufacturers are willing to cut production to control inventories as their emphasis is on needed profitability versus market share. [They] continue to battle high-cost raw materials still in inventories, so pricing is likely to remain elevated, but is unlikely to increase much further."

It looks like tire prices in 2012 will be a repeat of 2011.

Let me know what you think.

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Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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