At a time when tire manufacturing continues to move offshore, it seems unusual for a tiremaker to establish new production roots in the U.S.
But that’s exactly what Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. has done. In 2005, Toyo celebrated two landmarks its 60th year in business and its first North American tire plant.
On Dec. 8, some 700 people from more than 35 countries attended the grand opening of Toyo Tire North America Inc.’s (TTNA) first wholly owned tire manufacturing plant. The grand opening was held at the new $180 million facility, located on a 150-acre site in the Bartow County town of White, Ga. Guests included Toyo and Nitto tire dealers, Georgia state and regional officials, Bartow County business and community leaders and members of the local and national media.
In his initial remarks, Yoshio Kataoka, president and CEO of parent company Toyo Tire & Rubber Co., called the grand opening a “momentous event in the history of the Toyo group.” To rise to the number-one spot, he said, TTNA must strive to be a “good corporate citizen.”
Carlos Kibata, TTNA’s president, addressed dealers: “Our goal is to continue to provide you with a high-quality product designed to meet all your customers’ needs and expectations,” he said. “This plant will help to drive success of each of your businesses.”
It will do that, Kibata said, by leveraging Toyo’s advanced tire operation module (ATOM), a highly automated tire production system developed by Toyo five years ago and already partially integrated into some of its Japanese plants. The White facility is the first plant in the world to be completely ‘ATOM-ated.’
“The ATOM production method is designed to accommodate a complex, small-lot manufacturing environment,” said Kibata. “This enables us to respond to ever-changing market conditions.” Also important is the consistent quality and uniformity that the highly automated ATOM technology provides, said Kibata.
The plant project consists of three phases. Each phase will result in a two-million-tire annual capacity. In June, when the first phase comes to a close, 12 ATOM tire-building machines will have been installed, and the plant will have a capacity of two million tires per year. By then, the plant will employ 350 people. Some supply problems will be eased at the end of the first phase, Kibata said, but capacity still won’t be sufficient to meet North American demand. By the end of the third phase, TTNA forecasts an investment of up to $400 million and a capacity of six million tires per year.
Long term, the facility has the potential to employ 900 workers, Kibata said. Though he did not reveal specific timelines, he surmised that the second phase would start “sometime in 2007,” and the third phase around 2009 or 2010.
By June, 60% of the new plant’s production will be devoted to the Toyo brand and 40% to Nitto. Specific tires to be produced there include: Toyo Proxes S/T SUV tire, Toyo Open Country M/T and A/T light truck tires, Nitto NT 420S SUV tire, Nitto Mud Grappler light truck tire, Nitto Terra Grappler light truck tire and Nitto NT 555 UHP tire.
The facility, nearly one million square feet in size, includes an adjacent warehouse that will function as a Southeastern U.S. distribution point. Logistics was a key consideration in Toyo’s selection of Bartow County over 15 other locations in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Bartow County offers proximity to rail, air and highway transportation.
Bartow was also selected for its nearness to automaker plants, Kibata said, even though the first two to three years of operation will be devoted to the demanding replacement market. “Maybe in three years, we’ll supply tires OE,” he added.
But that’s down the road. Toyo’s focus now is on independent dealers. Dave Hazelton, president and chief operating officer of American Car Care Centers dealership Jim Paris Tire City in Denver, told Tire Review he was excited about the new plant. “The tires are needed in my area,” he said. “I’m also pleased to see that Toyo is bringing production back here.”