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Cooper is "completely focused" on tires

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"We're completely focused on the tire industry now," Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. Chairman, CEO and President Tom Dattilo told investors this morning. "We'll continue our efforts to elevate the Cooper brand" in 2005, with emphasis on ultra-high performance and premium-level tires.

"We expect sales to be strong for the year. Our biggest challenge will be to produce the tires we need."

Cooper introduced more than 1,200 SKUs during 2004.

"We expect new products to generate at least 15% of (2005) revenue," says Dattilo.

The Findlay, Ohio-based tiremaker plans to source two million more units from Asia this year than last year.

"There will be opportunities for us to work together with Kumho" in purchasing, product procurement and other initiatives.

Last month, Cooper announced it had reached an agreement to acquire 11% of Kumho Tire's common equity.

"Kumho has extensive experience and relationships in China that should help us with our penetration (there)."

Cooper and Kumho will operate independently, says Dattilo. The 11% acquisition is scheduled to go through sometime this quarter.

Dattilo says Cooper is looking for other strategic partnerships in Asia, but no "immediate announcements" are expected to be made.

Earlier today, Cooper disclosed fourth quarter 2004 net sales of $541 million, a 5% increase over fourth quarter 2003 sales.

For the full year of 2004, Cooper's continuing operations generated net sales of $2.1 billion, a 12% increase from $1.9 billion in 2003.

To bolster its financial position, Cooper is buying back $200 million in stock.

Dattilo also reports that pricing "is holding strong. The industry will support even more price increases during the coming year."

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