Bye Bye, Dunlop Tyres
It’s sad that Dunlop is severing its last ties with Britain. This was the company that first developed the pneumatic tyre. John Boyd Dunlop was not the inventor of the pneumatic tyre – that honour goes to Robert Thomson – but his company was the first to develop it. First for bicycle tyres and then for automotive tyres. Others soon followed. The Michelin brothers, Continental, Pirelli; all could see what a good idea it was but Dunlop was first in the field and it quickly prospered.
By 1920 it had manufacturing operations in France, Japan and America as well as tyre sales networks in most developed countries. Over the next few years it began manufacturing in Germany, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australasia and India. Unfortunately it was not to last. Dunlop diversified into other rubber products, mattresses, footwear and sports goods but poor management decisions led to it taking part in an ill-thought out merger with Pirelli. For ten years the companies struggled with mounting losses until they decided to call it a day and dissolve the joint venture.
Dilution of a tyre giant
This left Dunlop weakened and loaded with debt; very vulnerable to takeover. It sold its European tyre business to Sumitomo Tire, the company it had created in Japan in 1913. Two years later a conglomerate, BTR, purchased the remainder of the company and broke it up for sale. As a result the Dunlop name and brand was spread across many companies making rubber goods as well as tyres. There were separate companies making Dunlop branded tyres in Europe, America, Japan, India, Australia and South Africa. What a mess!
Reassembling a global brand
Since then Sumitomo has done its best to restore some credibility to the Dunlop name. It purchased the American company and then formed a joint venture with Goodyear to maximise their strengths. Goodyear took over management responsibility for Dunlop Tyres in North America and Europe whilst Sumitomo was responsible for the rest of the world. Even now there are outliers using the Dunlop name in Africa and India but Sumitomo has tried to mop up other loose ends.
Re-establishing a tyre brand
On the whole Goodyear has done a good job of re-establishing the Dunlop name for tires. It has positioned it as a sporting and high tech brand, selling at an appropriate price band. It will take time but the company has done well so far. More’s the pity that it hasn’t seen fit to retain at least token manufacturing in England where it all began. The iconic Fort Dunlop is now a hotel and the lease has run out on the existing premises. OK, the company has to move but why move to France with its impossible labor laws and to Germany. Surely some small premises could have been found somewhere in the English Midlands to keep the feeble flame of Dunlop manufacturing still flickering.