Eighty-eight years since its founding in Japan, Bridgestone Corp. has become the world’s largest tire manufacturer, with 180 production and R&D facilities in 27 countries. Among the many milestones that propelled the Japanese company to its current position was its merger with Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1988.
In 2018, approximately one out of every four passenger cars sold in the United States and Canada were rolled out with Bridgestone or Firestone tires. From its 30-story headquarters in downtown Nashville, Bridgestone Americas employs 2,200 people in the city alone, while across the U.S., Bridgestone Americas employs more than 38,000 people.
“We also saw real strength in our commercial truck and bus radial tires. They were up 9 percent year-on-year, which is strong, particularly in a relatively large, but mature market,” Bridgestone Americas CEO and President Gordon Knapp said.
In 2018, Bridgestone Americas announced a three-year, $40 million expansion of its truck and bus radial tire manufacturing facility in Morrison, Warren County, Tennessee in anticipation of growing demand. The company also performed very well in the sales of its off-road, construction and mining tires, many of which are produced in Trenton, Aiken County, South Carolina.
“The Bridgestone Aiken County Off-Road Tire Plant is absolutely critical to our growth. Four years ago, it wasn’t producing any giant mining tires. Now, it’s a key contributor not only in North America, but also globally, as we export those tires around the world in coordination with Bridgestone in Japan,” Knapp said.
Over several years, Bridgestone has consistently raised its investment in its original equipment technology to support its efforts to further boost sales. Through this, the U.S. affiliate company expects to see stronger sales of replacement tires, particularly those made in its Aiken County, South Carolina and Wilson County, North Carolina plants.
Focusing on efficient solutions for mobility, another factor of Bridgestone’s global leadership is the group’s underlying commitment to research and development.
“Our success is a reflection of our investments over a long period of time. It also reflects strong global coordination by our Bridgestone Americas team with other regions around the world,” Knapp said.
As a result of nearly $1 billion annually invested in R&D, Bridgestone has produced new products and technological value-added innovations, such as high rim diameter tires and run-flat tires.
“More than a decade ago, tires were between 15 and 16 inches in height. Today, Bridgestone produces larger passenger tires with heights of as much as 18 to 22 inches. Meanwhile, our run-flat tires will continue to run for up to 50 miles after a flat tire occurs, giving drivers a chance to safely extend their mobility,” Knapp said.
These trends can mainly be seen in North America and Europe.
“We have nurtured our assets and advantages over time to build the largest automotive retail chain in the world. We have more than 2,200 retail outlets in the U.S. mostly under two brand names: Firestone Complete Auto Care and Tires Plus. This is where consumers have access to new tires and a whole array of automotive services. This allows us the great advantage and opportunity to know our customers closely,” he said.
Another source of pride and a point that Bridgestone Americas has promoted in the region is that Bridgestone Corp. recently finalized partnerships with Toyota and with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to explore tire development for vehicles in its lunar mobility project.
“It’s not just about taking a tire that performs well. A tire that performs well in the extreme environments both hot and cold requires a much more complex understanding of why they work when in contact with the driving surface. We’re really proud to have been invited to participate in this project,” Knapp said.
To strengthen brand awareness, Bridgestone engages consumers through a variety of highly-visible sports partnerships that include the National Football League, the National Hockey League and the PGA TOUR.
As a Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner, Bridgestone also plans to be incredibly active around the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games in its global hometown. Additionally, the company manufacturers tires for open-wheel racing through its Firestone brand, which serves as the sole tire supplier for the NTT IndyCar Series and the iconic Indianapolis 500.
Closer to home and among many partners, Bridgestone adopted the non-profit organizations United Way and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America as major beneficiaries of its philanthropic efforts.
“We work closely with these two world-class charitable organizations and take a lot of pride in supporting them,” Knapp said.
“We’re very fond of, and very happy to be in, Nashville. We’re committed to the community and the people. We feel that Nashville and the South is a great place to do business and we rest very well every night knowing we have made this our home,” Knapp also said.