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Dunlop Rubber
Fate Acquired
Successor BTR plc
Founded 1889
Defunct 1985
Headquarters Birmingham, UK
Industry Rubber
Products Tyres

Dunlop Rubber was a company based in the United Kingdom which manufactured tyres and other rubber products for most of the 20th century. It was taken over by BTR plc in 1985. Since then, ownership of the Dunlop brands has been fragmented.

Contents

Early history

The company traced its origins to 1889, when Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. Ltd was formed in Oriel House, Dublin to acquire and commercialise John Dunlop's patent for pneumatic tyres.[1] This was the period of the bicycle boom. In 1896 the company registered a trademark[2] and incorporated a subsidiary in England[3]. Initially the company subcontracted manufacture, but by 1902 it had its own manufacturing subsidiary, Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd, in Birmingham, England.

In the early 1890s Dunlop established branches in Europe, North America and Australia. Although the pneumatic tyre was successful, Dunlop ran into financial difficulties, and had to sell its overseas operations. A significant disposal was the sale of the Australian branch in 1899. Since then, Dunlop Australia has not been connected with the British company, except for a 25% share in Dunlop Australia owned by the British company from 1927 to 1984. As a result, the rights to the Dunlop brands in Australia and New Zealand have been under different ownership from those in the rest of the world.[4]

In 1900 the company started production of tyres for motor cars. The company continued its expansion, and in 1918 production started at the new plant at Fort Dunlop, Birmingham. By 1920 the company had selling subsidiaries or branches in South Africa, South America, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and India, manufacturing operations in France, Japan and the USA, and rubber plantations in Malaya and Ceylon.

Diversification

In the 1920s, competition from foreign companies intensified in the UK tyre market, and Dunlop diversified. In 1925 Dunlop acquired the Charles Mackintosh group, and the Dunlop name was applied to footwear and clothing.

In 1925 a separate Aerospace Division was formed to meet the growing aircraft industry's demand for tyres and rubber products.[5]

In 1929 the company discovered the use of latex foam for mattresses, which were then marketed under the Dunlopillo brand[6]. In the 1930s other products involving the use of latex were added to the company's range, including golf balls and tennis racquets.

In 1943, the Admiralty Experimental Diving Unit was tasked to develop a suit for divers. Dunlop Rubber produced the Admiralty Underwater Swim Suit Mark I and swim fins.[7] They also designed an oxygen rebreather.[8]

Post War

After the war, the UK tyre market was a seller's market. By 1955 Dunlop had almost half of the market. A report by the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission in that year found that Dunlop and the four other main players in the UK market (Goodyear, Avon, Firestone and Michelin) had arrangements which resulted in fixed prices[9]. These arrangements had to change, and Dunlop's market share declined.

A further factor in Dunlop's decline was the decision in the early 1960s to develop textile radial tyres rather than the more durable steel-belted radial tyres. Dunlop lost ground to Michelin and other manufacturers marketing steel-belted tyres[10].

Dunlop continued to be active in motorsport, and from 1950 to 1977 was one of the suppliers of Formula One tyres.

In 1971 Dunlop entered into a merger with Pirelli to form the world's third largest tyre company. The merger was not a takeover by either company, but a joint venture arrangement where each company took minority interests in the other's subsidiaries[11]. The merger was not a success, and the joint venture was dissolved in 1981.

During the 1970s, Dunlop Rubber pioneered the world's first 'fail safe' tyres, permitting a vehicle to continue moving safely even following a blowout.

Takeover and breakup

By the early 1980s Dunlop was heavily in debt and in severe financial difficulties. In 1984 it sold the US tyre subsidiary, Dunlop Tire Corporation, to its management, and sold its interest in Dunlop India to the Jumbo Group of Dubai[12]. Then in 1985 the company was acquired by BTR plc.[13] The road tyre assets, including the right to use the Dunlop name for road tyres, were immediately sold to Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd of Japan (which had grown out of Dunlop's original Japanese factory).

During the 1990s BTR sold off the various Dunlop companies:

  • in 1996 the Dunlop Sports group, Dunlop Slazenger, was sold to its management, backed by CINVen[14]. Since 2004 it has been owned by Sports Direct[15].
  • in 1996 the Dunlop Footwear business was sold to the Dutch company Hevea.[16]
  • in 1996 Dunlop Adhesives was sold to Norcros plc, who in 2001 sold it on to Ardex GmbH.
  • in 1996 Dunlop Kenya was sold to local Kenyan interests. Dunlop Industries Ltd, a manufacturer of PVC floor tiles, is now a subsidiary of the Kenyan company Olympic Capital Holdings[17].
  • in 1996 Dunlop Aircraft Tyres Ltd was sold to form a separate independent company[18].
  • in 1997 the Dunlopillo company was sold to its management as Dunlop Latex Foam Ltd. In 2002 the Dunlopillo brand was itself split, when the UK rights to the brand were sold to Hilding Anders.
  • in 1998 BTR sold its Aerospace Group, including Dunlop Equipment and Dunlop Precision Rubber, to Doughty Hanson & Co to form Dunlop Standard Aerospace Group[19]. The new group was itself broken up in 2004, and the Dunlop Aerospace companies were acquired by Meggitt plc. Meggitt has inherited the original English company, now named Dunlop Holdings Ltd, incorporated in 1896[3].
  • in 1998 BTR sold its share of the South African subsidiary, Dunlop Africa Ltd, which was itself divided in 2001. The industrial products division was sold to become Dunlop Industrial Products and Dunlop Rubber Mouldings[20]. The tyre business, Dunlop Tyres International, was bought by Apollo Tyres of India in 2006.[21] Dunlop Tyres International owned rights to various Dunlop brands in a number of countries outside South Africa, and these rights were sold to Sports Direct in 2006.[22]

Dunlop Tyres since 1985

Sumitomo Rubber Industries sold tyres for road vehicles under the Dunlop brand from 1985 to 1999. In 1999 Sumitomo RI and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of the US formed a joint venture. Goodyear took control of the Dunlop tyre assets in Europe and the US, and Sumitomo RI continued to sell Dunlop tyres in other countries.

The Dunlop Tyres company in South Africa is now owned by the Indian company, Apollo Tyres. In India the Dunlop brand is owned by the Ruia Group of India, which acquired Dunlop India from the Jumbo Group in 2005[23].

See also

References

Other sources

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