JK Tyre debottlenecking operations amid demand surge

JK Tyre & Industries is working on debottlenecking operations to enhance capacity amid an expected surge in demand post the second wave of the pandemic, as well as reducing long-term debt by a third, or Rs 1,500 crore, over the next three years.

The country’s third largest tyre producer, which posted a robust recovery in business since the easing of the nationwide lockdown last fiscal year, said it would not consider fresh capacity addition for 12 months. Instead, the company would sweat existing assets to meet demand.

The company reduced its net debt by Rs 930 crore in the last financial year, chief financial officer Sanjeev Aggarwal said during an interaction with ET. It now has Rs 4,500 crore of net debt on the books.

“Once we strengthen our position further over the next one year, then we will be in a much better situation (to consider fresh capacity expansion),” Aggarwal said.

JK Tyre will invest Rs 100 crore in maintenance expenses and an additional Rs 200 crore to debottleneck operations over the next two years. This would help add 10% to existing capacity, it said.

The company utilised 95% of capacity at its manufacturing facilities in the second half of the last financial year. It has a capacity to produce 32 million tyres annually.

JK Tyre had taken up a project to expand truck bus radial capacities about two years ago. “But because of the change in axle load norms and the pandemic, we were not very sure about the certainty of the demand side. Now this (demand) is getting established. We are carefully watching the market and based on that we will take a decision (on investing in fresh capacity)”, he said.

Near term, the company is confident that sales in the local automotive market would bounce back strongly, driven by pent-up demand and traction in rural centres now that fresh Covid-19 cases are on a decline.

Signs of a normal monsoon this year bode well for demand, managing director Anshuman Singhania said.

“So, I think, rural demand will come back and there will be a lot of pent-up demand. This together with our focus on conserving cash, multiple measures taken to cut costs and increase profitability, should drive us forward into a robust year,” Singhania told ET.

Sales of commercial vehicles — a barometer of economic activity — are expected to grow in strong double-digits over the next few months as local lockdowns ease, Singhania said.

“We think that sales of commercial vehicles will show a robust increase driven by an uptick in industrial activity, government spends on infrastructure and on the low base of last fiscal,” he said, adding that rapid vaccination would be key to safeguarding the economy from a possible third wave of the pandemic.

However, despite the much-anticipated recovery on the demand side, challenges may surface due to a further increase in commodity prices. Aggarwal said the company planned to offset the rise in input costs by scaling up sales volumes, improving operational efficiencies, sweating unutilised capacity and controlling costs. If required, it may also increase prices, he said.

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