Vehicle segment demand and the tyre market, both original and replacement, are intrinsically linked. Reason enough that demand for tyres that are specifically shod on SUVs and premium vehicles is on the upswing, both in India and globally.
In India, where utility vehicles now account for one out of every two passenger vehicles (cars, UVs and vans), SUV sales totalled 453,172 units in FY2022, registering 18% year-on-year growth. In the ongoing fiscal year, SUV cumulative wholesales between April and August 2022 have already surpassed all of FY2022 – at 737,159 units, they constitute 41% YoY growth.
In similar vein is the revival of demand for premium or luxury cars in India, particularly after the Covid-impacted CY2020. Sales of luxury cars from the top three OEMs in the segment – Mercedes-Benz India, BMW India and Audi India – rose 45% YoY to 23,411 units in CY2021 (CY2020: 16,135 units).
What is common to both the SUV and premium / luxury vehicle segments is the need for high-quality performance on multiple fronts – comfort, noise and durability.
What’s more, vehicles in these two segments typically use larger-size wheels – of xxxx inches – as compared to small passenger cars. The sustained market growth for these two vehicle segments is also driving growth in the application of large-sized tyres in India and comes as a new business opportunity for tyre manufacturers to localise such products faster.
According to Parag Satpute, Managing Director of Bridgestone India, "Growing sales of SUVs and luxury cars are the driving force behind application of high-end tyres in India and are also helping us to quickly achieve economically viable localisation in India."
Enhancing localisation to tread new market territory
Bridgestone India was quick to respond to the Indian government's ban on all tyre imports enforced in June 2020, to promote local manufacturing of this high-value component in vehicles.
According to Satpute, "The ban compelled us to quickly localise even large-diameter-size tyres and today we are able to manufacture anything up to 19 inches. We will soon be able to manufacture up to 20-inch-diameter tyre sizes in the country.
"While we are still allowed to import some of the high-end tyres, including run-flat tyres that are fitted on luxury cars from our manufacturing bases overseas, we are localising at a record pace in India," Satpute told Autocar Professional.
Nonetheless, Bridgestone India says that it had been manufacturing as much as 95% of its products locally in India even before the ban on tyre imports was implemented. The core of the tyre market in India is concentrated in the 14- to 15-inch tyre sizes.
The company, which recently launched its new Sturdo range of passenger vehicle tyres in India in the 14-17-inch tyre size category, says it is witnessing demand for more durable and long-lasting tyres from the domestic market and its customers. In line with this, Bridgestone India claims to have developed a rubber compound that aids both low rolling resistance as well as longevity to cater to the specific requirements of the Indian market.
The company, which continues to invest into capacity expansion and new technology in India, has invested Rs 2,000 crore in the past two years towards these critical aspects of its business.