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The origins (1872 - 1899)
The origin of Pirelli dates back to 1872, the year Giovanni Battista Pirelli founded a limited partnership, "G.B. Pirelli & C.", in Milan to produce elastic rubber items. G.B. Pirelli & C. was liquidated and Pirelli & C., a limited shares partnership was established. In 1873, the first plant for the production of rubber items was built in Milano. Later, the rubber band production line for carriages was started (1885) and the first tyre for velocipedes was launched (1894) which resulted from a number of innovations in the preparation of materials and manufacture of tyres.
Development and geographic expansion (1900 - 1999)
In 1901, the production of car tyres began which was coupled with growth specifically based on two major factors: care for technological development of processes and products and the support of an ongoing commitment in racing, and a strong geographic expansion.
In particular, in the first few years of 1900, Pirelli’s geographic expansion took off with the opening their plants in Barcelona (Spain, 1902), Southampton (England,1903), Buenos Aires (Argentina, 1917), Manresa (Spain, 1924) and Burton on Trent (England, 1928). In those years, the Group strengthened its commitment in racing; in 1907, the first Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France was won by a car fitted with Pirelli tyres.
In 1922, the limited shares partnership Pirelli & C. was listed at the Milan Stock Exchange. Always in the Twenties, Società Italiana Pirelli - the outcome of a reorganization of Pirelli & C. – was listed at the New York Stock Exchange, allowing the Gruppo Pirelli to become the first Italian Group with shares traded on the US market. In 1929, the firs Brazilian plant was built and this contributed to Pirelli’s expansion throughout the country.
Shortly after the war, the Superflex Stella Bianca, the first and innovative sport tyre, was conceived and launched. Very popular in Italy during the Thirties, the tyre was fitted with a reinforced tread to avoid damages at high speeds. In the Forties, Pirelli’s foothold in Latin America gave rise to a further progress with the opening of the Santo André plant (1940), followed by the Merlo factory in Argentina (1955).
In 1949, the Cinturato started to be conceived and designed, the first Pirelli radial tyre marketed from 1953. The Cinturato’s main feature was a sturdy belt in radial material between the carcass and the tread and was an innovation compared to the tyres on the market, since it provided a remarkably better level of safety, performance and wear. In 1959, the production of steelcord began at the Figline Valdarno (Italia) plant.
During the Sixties and Seventies, a further step to develop the strategy geared on geographic expansion and technological innovation was made. In 1960, plants at Patrassus (Greece), and Izmit (Turkey) as well as Gravataì (Brazil) were opened; while in 1963, Veith Gummiwerke AG, a tyre company based in Germany, was acquired. Technological developments ensued with the design of the low tyres which thanks to the know-how acquired in racing, met the power requirements for cars produced by the major international car makers.
This series was to be consistently upgraded until the production of super-low tyres, a stronghold of the Group in both the sporting and industrial markets were launched. In the Seventies, a big technology advance was made, with the lauch of Cinturato P6, P7 and P8.
In the Eighties, the result of a further commitment in terms of technological innovation was the introduction of the first motorcycle radial tyre. Geographic expansion was then to be consolidated with the opening of the Brazilian plants at Sumarè (1984) and Feira de Santana (1986) as well as the acquisition of Metzeler Kaotscuck AG, a German company whose moto tyre production was very popular (1986). This helped to achieve a better competitive positioning in this segment. In 1988, with the acquisition of Armstrong Tyre Company, a US-based tyre manufacturer, the first of many actions to enter the North American market was accomplished.
In the early Nineties, Pirelli was engaged in a demanding corporate and financial reorganization program, following the market recession and the failed acquisition of Continental AG, where considerable economic resources had been invested. The reorganization process was to end in 1994, when the geographic expansion program was resumed. In 1999, Alexandria Tire Company SAE, an Egyptian Pirelli technology licencee and radial tyre maker for trucks and buses was acquired.
The years 2000: consolidation and reorganization
In 2000, Pirelli sold to Cisco their terrestrial systems and to Corning their optical component business, this transaction being worth approximately 5 billion euro. In 2001, Pirelli acquired a share in Telecom Italia S.p.A. through Olympia and became the reference shareholder until 2007.
In 2001, based on an on-going technological research effort, Pirelli started producing with their MIRS (Modular Integrated Robotized System) technology which was to substantially change Pirelli’s tyre building process. In 2003, the CCM-based (Continuous Compound Mixing) technology room was introduced to test innovative mixes and materials.
In its search for an optional production platform, Pirelli was to implement a production capacity strategy in those countries with top growth rates. In 2004, a joint venture agreement was signed with Continental AG to produce steelcords in Romania. Through this joint venture - Pirelli acquired an 80% control share over it - a plant in Slatina was also built in 2005. Next to it, and still in 2005, the Group started building a production plant for their car tyres which was to become operational in April 2006.
In 2005, Pirelli sold its “Cavi e Sistemi Energia e Telecomunicazioni” business (Cables and Energy Systems and Telecommunications) to Goldman Sachs. The new company was named Prysmian S.p.A. Also in 2005, Pirelli opened their first Chinese tyre plant, in the Shandong province, the area that would become the Group’s production core in this country.
In 2006 Pirelli opened their first car tyre plant at Slatina in Romania, which was to be expanded in 2011. In 2008, the Settimo Torinese industrial plant project took off. The plant was to be the result from the integration of two factories and was to become the most technologically advanced in the entire Group. Research to develop technologies on tyre energy efficiency also gained momentum, and in 2009 Cinturato P7 was introduced, the first high-performance tyre based on a “green philosophy”.
In 2010, Pirelli completed its transformation into a “pure tyre company”, through the dismissal of the Pirelli Broadband Solutions business and spin-off of Pirelli & C. Real Estate (at the registration date: Prelios S.p.A.). In the same year, after its setting up in 2009, the Pirelli Foundation was established to safeguard, protect and enhance Pirelli’s historical heritage as well as promoting entrepreneurial culture as an integral part of Italy’s cultural heritage.
In June 2010, after 19 years, Pirelli was back to Formula 1™, and became the exclusive tyre supplier since 2011. Pirelli had also been the exclusive tyre supplier for the Superbike World Championship since 2004 as well as of prestigious single-brand championships, like the Ferrari Challenge of which used to be supplier since its inception a quarter of a century ago, and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo of which used to be supplier since 2009, the first year of the championship European series.
In 2011, Pirelli expanded its production foothold into the Russian market, through a joint venture with Rostec (at the time, Rostekhnologii) and strengthened its Argentinian presence by expanding its Merlo plant. In 2012, Pirelli signed a joint venture agreement with Astra OtoParts for the building of a moto tyre production plant in Indonesia to be opened in 2015. Also in 2012, the Silao plant, the first one of the Group in Mexico, was opened which was intended to produce Premium tyres to supply the NAFTA area. In 2014, Pirelli sold its steelcord business to Bekaert, a leading Belgian Group in technologies for change and coverage of steel cables.
In March 2015, the Camfin, LTI and Coinv shareholders signed with ChemChina and its controlled company CNRC (China National Tire & Rubber Corporation, Ltd. (“CNRC”) a long-term industrial partnership agreement involving Pirelli and with the purpose of making Pirelli’s development plans sounder and stronger, be in strategically important geographic areas and achieve the integration of their tyre business into CNRC and Pirelli industrial segments.
Through Marco Polo Industrial Holding, which was later to be merged into Pirelli on June 2016, the parties promoted a Public Tender Offer on the company which was to be delisted from the Milan Stock Exchange on November 2015.
Between 2015 and 2017, Pirelli’s focus was to accomplish all the objectives set forth in the partnership agreement. More specifically, to improve the level of independence to its Industrial Tyre business, also with due consideration to the integration with CNRC projects and actions in this segment through its controlled company Aeolus (listed at the Shangai Stock Exchange), a separation from the Pirelli Group was enacted in the spring of 2017 through transfer of Pirelli Industrial to shareholder Marco Polo. Therefore, Marco Polo became the sole shareholder of Pirelli and reference shareholder of Pirelli Industrial, renamed Prometeon Tyre Group s.r.l. whose 52% capital share is held by Marco Polo (through TP Industrial Holding S.p.A.), while 38% by High Grade Investment Management Limited and 10% by Aeolus Tyre. Aeolus entry into Prometeon Tyre Group dates back to 2016, following the sale by Pirelli Tyre to Aeolus of 10% of the then Pirelli Industrial paid up capital and the parallel purchase by Pirelli Tyre of 80% of the paid up capital of Jiaozuo Aeolus Tyre, later renamed Pirelli Tyre (Jiaozuo) Co., Ltd (back then, a company entirely owned by Aeolus, and active in the production and marketing of Consumer tyres).
Pirelli returned to the stock market on October 4, 2017, following a re-organization process which led to the separation of the Industrial business and to the focus on the Consumer business, enriched with new proficiencies also through the creation of new departments and business (Consumer Marketing, Digital, Data Science, Cyber and Velo).