TOKYO -- Japanese tire manufacturer Bridgestone said Tuesday it was closing a half-century old factory in southern Italy next year due to slumping demand in Europe.

The factory, which employs about 950 people, is one of eight Bridgestone plants in Europe including sites in Spain, France, Poland and Hungary.

Located in the southern Italian province of Bari, the factory makes passenger car tires and was expected to close in the first half of 2014, the Japanese firm said. It started operations in 1962.

Bridgestone said it was ready to start talks aimed at finding "the best solution in order to minimize, as much as possible, the social impact of the decision on the approximately 950 employees involved."

A company spokesman in Tokyo declined to comment on what measures could be taken as officials begin discussions with the labor union.

Bridgestone blamed the planned closure on "structural changes which have taken place over the last two years in the tire market both in Europe and globally," citing "increasing pressure" from lower-cost rivals in emerging markets and a worldwide drop in tire demand.

"This decision has been taken after a thorough analysis of all possible alternatives, but none of these were feasible," it said, adding that the company was left "with no other choice than to proceed with the closure."

Car tire demand in the European Union was likely to remain below pre-2011 levels until at least 2020, it said.

Bridgestone's net profit last year soared 67% to $1.83 billion with the company citing a weaker yen, strong sales of premium tires and improved demand in Asia and at home, which offset declines in Europe.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013