S.C.’s tire, auto industries could lure another multimillion-dollar plant

South Carolina could be gearing up for another manufacturing announcement worth hundreds of millions of dollars — this time in the state’s booming tire industry.

Germany’s Evonik Industries AG said last week it will build a world-scale plant in the U.S. to supply precipitated silica for the production of tires. Evonik said it will build the plant in the Southeast, near major American tire production sites, but it did not pinpoint a state.

The company wants to open the plant in 2017 and has already started initial engineering work.

“Evonik is on a growth path,” said Klaus Engel, chairman of Evonik’s executive board. “In planning this new silica plant, we are preparing our largest North American investment of the past five years.”

The bulk of America’s tire production is in South Carolina, which has three major tire manufacturers and is about to get two more. The state also leads the nation in tire exports, making nearly one-third of all tires sent to foreign countries.

Michelin, Bridgestone and Continental combine to employ about 11,000 people statewide and make 30 million vehicle tires every year.

Giti Tire, which will make tires for trucks and cars, and Trelleborg, which will make tires for agricultural equipment, are opening facilities in S.C. that will have a combined investment of more than $600 million and employ nearly 2,000 people. Giti will make 5 million tires per year. Trelleborg’s projected numbers weren’t available.

S.C. Commerce Department officials aren’t talking specifically about Evonik.

“Commerce does not publicly discuss which prospective projects it may be recruiting,” agency spokeswoman Allison Skipper said.

But Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the state’s cluster of tire manufacturers and its growing automobile industry — a long-established BMW plant in Greer and announced Daimler and Volvo factories in the Charleston region — work hand-in-hand to lure new companies.

“They all fit together,” Hitt said. “We have 250 automobile-related companies in South Carolina right now and that was a huge selling point for Volvo to come here knowing there was a supplier system and to have a choice of tire companies. Primarily, tire companies look at us because we’re the largest producers in the world. They can see that something right must be going on here.”

By using a silica-silane combination in place of carbon black, tiremakers are able to produce reduced rolling-resistance tires that allow for fuel savings of up to 8 percent compared to conventional tires. Evonik is the only producer to offer both silica and silane.

“Interest in energy-saving tires is continuously growing in North America,” said Johannes Ohmer, management member of Evonik’s resource efficiency segment. “That’s why we are planning to build the plant close to our customers — the large tire manufacturers.”

This would be Evonik’s second precipitated silica plant in the U.S. and 11th worldwide. The other, in Chester, Pa., was expanded last year with an additional 20,000 metric tons of capacity.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_