Titan Is 'Optimistic Heading into 2021,' Says Hawkins
More good things are around the corner for ag tire manufacturers and dealers, Paul Hawkins, senior vice president of aftermarket sales for Titan International Inc., recently told MTD. In this exclusive interview, Hawkins discusses the state of ag tire demand in North America, new products that Titan will roll out during 2021 and more.
MTD: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your ag tire business in North America?
Hawkins: Initially, we did see a slight dip in the aftermarket in March, largely because most tire dealers were trying to learn how to continue serving their customers safely during that time. That said, our aftermarket performance has been good since then. In fact, a number of our customers have commented that the farm tire business helped many of them weather the storm through a period of reduced demand in the other areas of their business.
We have been well-positioned to support them throughout the pandemic for several reasons. First, both our wheels and tires are made right here in the U.S. We are less reliant on the global supply chain, so our dealers have been able to get a consistent, dependable supply from us. Secondly, because we are a global company, we had the benefit of applying learnings from our facilities in countries that were hard-hit by the pandemic early on - such as Italy, Spain and China - and were able to get ahead of the curve in our U.S. facilities. This allowed us to get protocols into place that helped us to remain in full operation throughout the pandemic.
With agriculture and construction being deemed an essential service, we couldn’t be more proud of our more than 2,000 U.S. employees who safely kept our manufacturing going without interruption this year.
MTD: Can you describe the current state of overall ag tire demand in the U.S. and Canada?
Hawkins: Weather is always a major factor in farmer profitability, and thus, ag tire demand. In that regard, we’ve been much better off this year as compared to last year. The flooding across the western corn belt last year had such a major impact on the planting and harvest schedules.
While OEM production is down, our aftermarket business in ag remains quite strong. For the last couple of years, farmers have been looking for ways to upgrade for better performance out of the tractors they already own. Upgrading your tires, especially with (Titan’s) Low Sidewall Technology, is a great way to do that.
In addition to being able to offer a consistent supply of wheels and tires to our dealers throughout the pandemic, we’ve also undergone some pretty extensive product line modifications and expansions that have been successful in the aftermarket. In particular, our Goodyear Optitrac R-1W line has been filled out with new sizes to suit virtually any possible tractor configuration — bringing the total to more than 100 sizes. We also continue to see growth in adoption of our LSW Technology tires both in the aftermarket and with some key OEM wins this year.
As we close out the year, we’re excited to see how the additional round of $14 billion in coronavirus aid to farmers announced in September will impact farmer spending.
MTD: What will 2021 look like?
Hawkins: Based on a really good year in the aftermarket, we’re optimistic heading into 2021. We’re continuing to invest in product development that will open up new opportunities for us. Something we’re particularly excited about is our plan to introduce a brand-new Titan R-1W line called the AgraEDGE. Over the course of 2021, we plan to introduce more than 40 of the most popular sizes for mechanical front wheel drive tractors, four-wheel-drive tractors, combines and grain carts. This will be an incredibly price-competitive tire coming out of our North American plants — providing consistent, reliable supply where there may be gaps in supply with other price-competitive manufacturers.
MTD: What trends should ag tire dealers monitor as the new year begins?
Hawkins: It’s going to continue being about having a reliable, high-quality supplier close to home. One thing we’re really proud of at Titan is our Titan University (Titan U) training program for dealers. We held an in-person summit in January that was very well-attended and successful. We followed that this spring by investing in the creation of the same program to be conducted virtually. We were really surprised how well these virtual sessions were attended. Participants can attend training on topics such as product features/benefits, selling strategies, and application-specific sessions on agriculture, construction, forestry and earthmoving. We intend to extend these virtual offerings this winter.
“We’ve also partnered with the Tire Industry Association to offer in-person, hands-on advanced tire service training programs to our dealer partners in recent years,” says Hawkins. “We hope to continue that program in 2021, barring any safety concerns around the COVID-19 situation.”