It was after a study trip in Europe between 1870 and 1871 that Giovanni Battista Pirelli got the idea to dedicate himself to what was then a whole new industry—rubber—founding the limited partnership, G.B. Pirelli & C., in Milan in 1872 to make products out of elastic rubber. The young age of the global rubber industry and the limited capacity of the Italian market as an outlet for their products soon drove the company to look abroad right from the first years of business.
A real turning point for the Italian firm came in 1902 when they opened the Spanish facilities in Villaneuva y Geltrù just south of Barcelona, as this marked the start of a long process of internationalisation, one that the company has never abandoned and which has enabled them to become a truly multinational organisation, one centred around the group’s Bicocca headquarters on the site of their first manufacturing facility, the old cooling tower of which remains an architectural feature at the heart of the company’s headquarters to this day. It is here at its Bicocca headquarters where Pirelli also has the group’s primary Research & Development unit, which oversees all research conducted by the eight other R&D facilities around the world—a world in which Pirelli now has 20 production sites in 14 nations, all of which have returned to focus entirely on the production of tyres.
Pirelli’s home nation features production facilities in Bollate (Milan) and the group’s most technologically advanced site, the Settimo Torinese Industrial Complex, which was born out of the union of two Pirelli plants into a single complex covering an area of 250,000 square metres. Elsewhere in Europe, Pirelli has two sites in the United Kingdom—in Burton-on-Trent, established in 1929, and in Carlisle, established in 1969—as well as the facilities established in 1963 in Breuberg, Germany. The plant in Izmit, Turkey, has been active since 1962 and is where the company makes its tyres for Formula 1, along side its tyres for both cars and trucks. Since 1999, Pirelli has had production facilities in Alexandria, Egypt, to cover the African market and meet the region’s needs for truck tyres. In the 2000s, in order to take advantage of opportunities arising from growing demand in rapidly developing economies, the group opened facilities in Slatina, Romania (2006), in Yanzhou, China (2005), and in Guanajuato, Mexico (2012), the production of which supports that of the U.S. facilities in Rome, Georgia (2002), thereby freeing up capacity for the South American facilities that previously did work for the NAFTA market.
Indeed, it is in South America where the Pirelli group has the greatest number of production facilities and where they have had a presence since 1910, generating just under 30% of total revenues. In Brazil in particular, Pirelli now has four factories (in Santo André since 1941, in Campinas since 1970, in Gravatai since 1976, and in Feira de Santana since 1986), which produce the entire range of Pirelli tyres. The group also has a tyre plant in Merlo, Argentina, established in 1968, and in Guacara, Venezuela (established in 1990), and employs a total of some 13,000 people in South America out of the organisation’s total workforce of 38,000 worldwide.
More recently, Pirelli has also ventured into Russia, where they have had a manufacturing presence since 2011 through a partnership with Rostec (formerly Russian Technologies) to acquire production facilities in Kirov and Voronezh, two ‘historic’ sites of the Russian Federation, the production of which has since been updated to Pirelli standards of technology. Pirelli now also has a presence in Indonesia through another partnership with a local group (Astra Otoparts), having recently launched the brand-new Subang facilities, which focus on the production of motorcycle tyres in order to take advantage of the great potential of the APAC market.