Port Elizabeth - Tradition-rich US tyre brand General Tire is celebrating its centenary. The company traces its origins to Akron, Ohio, where William F. O’Neill and his partner Winfred E. Fouse had the idea of producing superior-quality tyres.
At the time, there were more than 300 companies making tyres in the USA.
But unlike their competitors, the two partners put their faith in high quality from the outset and initially focused on the truck marke.
They pioneered an oversized pneumatic truck tyre called the General Jumbo. Back in those days, trucks ran on solid rubber tyres and the pneumatic tyre was an innovation that soon caught on. A nationwide team of loyal, competent and independent dealers helped ensure that the brand rapidly proved a success. General Tire innovations also made inroads into the automobile market. In the mid-1920s, for example, the company released General Balloon Jumbo tyres for cars.
These required much lower air pressure and provided a far more comfortable ride than conventional tyres. General Tire rapidly expanded its range, which soon included the high-mileage, puncture-proof Dual Balloon. As the 1930s dawned, General Tire had become the largest truck tyre manufacturer in the USA, with a range that included a full line of pneumatic tyres.
At the same time, the company added an international page to its ledger, incorporating a wholly-owned subsidiary in Mexico.
Next, it concluded an original equipment agreement with International Harvester, one of the largest US manufacturers of commercial vehicles and agricultural machinery. By the end of the decade, every major US truck builder had General Tire on its approved original equipment list.
In the 1940s, General Tire generated further innovations in tyre manufacturing and stepped up its expansion with the opening of a state-of-the-art tyre plant in Waco, Texas. In April 1949, General Tire and Rubber Company started production of its first tyres, tubes and repair materials at a new plant built in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
This was exactly one year after ground was broken for the new facility. It followed the registration of the company in January 1947 as a venture between General Tire International and the Williams Hunt Group.
In the mid-1950s the tyre manufacturer continued to grow its portfolio and entered the original equipment market for car tyres, initially as a supplier to General Motors. Demand for original equipment tyres continued to grow, and General Tire invested in new, advanced tyre plants, as well as in the world’s largest tyre test track in Uvalde, Texas. The third domestic tyre plant was opened in 1960 at Mayfield, Kentucky, followed in 1967 by additional facilities in Bryan, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. The sixth plant went into operation in 1973 at Mt. Vernon, Illinois.
In many important ways, General Tire scientists have advanced the state of the art in the tyre industry, leading to improvements in the production and performance of both car and truck tyres. Along with its growth in the tyre business, General Tire also branched into business areas beyond tyres – including aerospace and defense, entertainment and broadcasting, chemicals/plastics and industrial products, tennis ball production and hotel development.
In 1984, GenCorp, Inc. was set up as the parent holding company, overseeing the various businesses. General Tire, Inc. was established within GenCorp to encompass worldwide tyre operations.
In 1987, GenCorp’s board of directors fended off a hostile takeover attempt, launching a massive restructuring program and refocusing the group on its core business, which by now meant aerospace and industrial goods. The German tyre manufacturer Continental acquired GenCorp’s tyre operations on October 30, 1987 as part of an ambitious program of expansion. In 1995 the company changed its name to Continental General Tire, Inc. before being renamed Continental Tire North America, Inc. in May 2000.
The South African operations gained further momentum in 1978 when General Tire South Africa concluded a technical services agreement with Continental AG, which gave the company access to the technology required to build high-performance steelbelt radial ply tyres in SA. Seven years later the association was further consolidated when the German company approved the production of Continental-branded products at the Port Elizabeth factory.
Continental tyres were launched locally in 1986 and quickly achieved success in both the original equipment (OE) and replacement markets. In 1998, Continental AG acquired a majority 60 percent shareholding in General Tire in SA. The company was subsequently renamed Continental Tyre SA (Pty) Ltd.
In 2013 Continental AG claimed 100% ownership of Continental Tyre SA. The company continues to manufacture a broad portfolio of tyres for passenger cars and trucks under the General Tire brand name. Over time, the brand has established a global reputation as one of the most innovative manufacturers of 4x4 tyres, with a wide range of tyres for on- and off-road use. About Continental Corporation Continental develops intelligent technologies for transporting people and their goods.
As a reliable partner,the international automotive supplier, tire manufacturer, and industrial partner provides sustainable, safe, comfortable, individual, and affordable solutions. In 2014, the corporation generated preliminary sales of approximately €34.5 billion with its five divisions, Chassis & Safety, Interior, Powertrain, Tire, and ContiTech. Continental employs more than 190,000 people in 49 countries.
The Tire Division currently has 24 production and development locations worldwide. The broad product range and continuous investments in R&D make a major contribution to cost-effective and ecologically efficient mobility. As one of the world's leading tire manufacturers with more than 44,000 employees, the Tire Division achieved sales of €9.6 billion in 2013. Continental Commercial Vehicle Tires is one of the largest manufacturers of truck, bus and commercial specialty tires worldwide.