DETROIT – Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for more than four decades the sponsor of the Detroit roadside billboards that flashed a running total of North American light-vehicle production, has ended funding of the longstanding landmarks.

Since 1992, Goodyear operated the blimp-shaped, production-toting billboards – which also incorporated technology to provide text messages – at two sites here: a pair on I-94 entering and leaving Detroit and one at the intersection of I-94 and I-75 in Detroit.

Prior to 1992, Goodyear had conventionally shaped billboards that showed only the running vehicle-production totals, and there also was a billboard on Detroit’s M-10, known as the John C. Lodge freeway.

Early this year, Goodyear’s lease on the signs ran out, says Goodyear spokesman Chuck Sinclair. A new lease to operate the signs for five more years was quoted at more than $1 million.

“It was a very difficult business decision to exit the Detroit landscape,” admits Sinclair. “It is a sign not only of the economic times but also of the competitiveness of the (tire) industry.”

He says he does not know if any other company or entity has expressed interest in providing the vehicle-production information on roadside billboards.

Sinclair says Goodyear may try other methods to maintain its public presence in Detroit, perhaps seizing more opportunities to fly its signature blimps into the area for more sporting events or auto industry occasions. The company, for example, sent a blimp to Detroit during last month’s North American International Auto Show.

“I know the emotions run pretty deep” about the billboards, says Sinclair. “A lot of people grew up with that sign. We’re as sorry as anyone to see it go.”