A couple of months back I stumbled across an August 2014 report by the USITC (United States International Trade Commission) on the production and sale of tires for passenger vehicles and light trucks (PVLT). The report contains the preliminary findings of an investigation of charges of price dumping by China, and in the by-and-by discloses a number of interesting facts about U.S. consumption of tires, and how and where tires are made. The following tidbits come from the report and unless otherwise stated, refer to 2013 data. Passenger vehicle tires are lumped in with light truck tires because both are produced on the same equipment at the same factories in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

1) In 2013 the U.S. consumed 295 million PVLT tires. If you took that many 245 70/R 17 tires and stacked them flat over the area of a football field the pile would be 35,683 feet tall, more than a mile higher than the top of Mount Everest (my calculation—not the USITC’s)

2) Of the 295 million PVTL tires sold in the U.S. in 2013, 43% were made in the U.S., 17% were made in China, and 40% came from other countries (chiefly Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Thailand).

3) By weight, a tire consist of roughly 40% rubber (natural or synthetic), 28% carbon black, 17% reinforcing fabric body ply, and 15% steel. For more on these components see Anatomy of a Tire.

4) Tires are made by layering sheets of rubber, fabric, and steel reinforcing cord onto a tire building drum—which forms them to the rough shape of a tire. The “green” tire is removed from the drum, placed in a form, and then vulcanized (cured at elevated pressure and temperature). The video below was shot at a factory in the Czech Republic and contains a detailed description of how tires are made. The part described here begins at about the 4:30 mark.

5) Synthetic rubber and carbon black are made from petroleum—which suggests we are far more reliant on petroleum than most of us realize. A tire made mostly from petroleum could be on a truck powered by petroleum (gasoline, diesel, or natural gas) and wear itself out by rolling against a road surface that contains petroleum (asphalt being the petroleum byproduct used to bind aggregates in asphalt roads).

6) The replacement market is becoming increasingly important because in the last decade the average age of U.S. vehicles has gone up by almost 18%. This trend has been driven by the recent economic downturn and squares with a survey conducted with Tools of the Trade readers earlier this year.

7) 25% of the tires made in the U.S. are sold to automakers for use on new vehicles. The other 75% go to the replacement market.

8) Nearly all of the tires (97-98%) imported by the U.S. from China are for the replacement market.

9) Bridgestone, Michelin, and Goodyear account for close to 40% of global PVLT tire sales.

10) The largest producers of tires in the U.S. (in alphabetical order) are Bridgestone, Cooper, Goodyear, and Michelin. Other companies with major U.S. include: Continental, Pirelli, Toyo, and Yokohama.

11) Eight of the nine U.S. producers of PVLT tires owns or is otherwise related to one or more foreign producers of PVLT tires. The import data is proprietary so the actual percentages are not shown (though the USITC knows what the numbers are).

12) Companies with U.S. operations produced approximately 148 million tires in the U.S. in 2013, sold them for $12.7 billion, and earned a profit of $1.24 billion on those sales. That means the manufacturer gets $88 for each U.S. made tire sold in this country and earns $8.64 in net profit. Retail prices are higher due to distribution costs and the markup of middlemen and vendors. Almost 60% of the tires sold in the U.S. are imported and those tires are typically less expensive than ones produced here.

13) The number of production and related workers in the U.S. tire industry fell from 33,390 in 2011 to 29,033 in 2013.

14) Most of the tires exported from the U.S. go to Australia, Canada, or Mexico.

15) China and the U.S. are the number one and two tire makers in the world. The last known stats on Chinese production are from 2007, and in that year China produced 152M passenger tires and 185M commercial light vehicle tires. The U.S. produced 154M passenger tires and 41M light truck and bus tires.

16) According to the Pollution Prevention Regional Information Center, a passenger vehicle tire weighs 25 pounds new and 20 pounds when it goes in for recycling. The 5 missing pounds are tread that has worn away. If those figures are correct it means passenger vehicles and light trucks are leaving 737,500 tons of rubber on U.S. roadways each year. (295M tires x 5 pounds/2,000 pounds per ton)

[Photo by Peterforsyth. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.] Burning Rubber. This is a tiny portion of the 737,500 tons of rubber left on U.S. roadways each year by light trucks and passenger vehicles.