Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s commercial division has undergone some big changes. For starters, several years ago Cooper transferred all of its medium truck tire production from the United States to China. The company’s truck tires are now made at Cooper Chengshan (Shandong) Truck Tire Co. Ltd., of which Cooper owns 51%.
Then in 2006, the company dropped its Cooper truck tire brand, making Roadmaster its flagship truck tire line. “We had a plan in place to have tier two and tier three products, but for several reasons that didn’t work out,” says Bill Hoban, national truck tire sales manager for Cooper’s North American Tire Division. “Right now we have Roadmaster, and it’s a full commitment as far as time and energy.”
Hoban recently updated CTD on Cooper’s commercial truck tire program, discussing new sizes, manufacturing in China and Cooper’s entry into the wide base truck tire niche.
CTD: Can you bring us up to speed on Cooper’s commercial tire program?
Hoban: We are fully committed to the commercial segment of the industry. We’ve had some gyrations through the years, but this particular segment is really working for us. Selling in the tier three value segment has been a success story for us in the last year-and-a-half.
We don’t pull any punches. We’re manufactured in China. We own 51% of the plant. We have engineers there and very strict quality controls. We are building a tire of tier two quality at a very competitive price.
CTD: How’s the plant in China doing? Are you manufacturing at maximum capacity?
Hoban: We’ve been doing well. There will always be unexpected circumstances that arise, but overall it’s been a great experience. The plant is very large; it can handle capacity.
CTD: How many truck tires are you shipping back to the U.S.?
Hoban: We’re shipping close to 400,000 units per year.
CTD: Are there any plans to add a secondary truck tire brand?
Hoban: We’ve looked at that and there is an opportunity. A lot of it is based on productivity and available resources in China. But right now, that’s not going to be a factor short-term.
CTD: Tell us about size expansions to the Roadmaster line. A couple of new sizes were on display at last month’s Specialty Equipment Market Association Show…
Hoban: We have some new sizes coming out, such as 315/80R22.5. We’re looking at building a 385/65R22.5 and a 425/65R22.5 wide-base, along with an all-position tire with cut- and chip-resistant compounding. We won’t have 100% coverage (of the market), but we’re going to be in the 90% to 95% range.
CTD: Is this Cooper’s first foray into the wide-base truck tire market?
Hoban: Yes, but I’m referring to the 385/65R22.5 and the 425/65R22.5, which are designed for the front ends of heavy equipment like ready-mix trucks, large dump trucks and things like that.
CTD: Has Cooper taken serious looks at developing an over-the-highway wide-base truck tire like the Bridgestone Greatec or the Michelin X One?
Hoban: I would say not a serious look. Right now we have our hands full with what we’re currently producing and the new products I mentioned.
CTD: How would you characterize your dealer relations?
Hoban: Our relations have always been excellent. Part of the reason we’ve been successful is that our customers appreciate the Roadmaster line for what it is: a good value product backed by Cooper.
CTD: Any plans to aggressively expand your dealer base?
Hoban: No, we’re very happy with where we are today. Right now we’re in a sold-out position; due to that, we’re not really aggressively pursuing new business.
“We have four-belt construction in our casings,” Hoban adds, “which isn’t always offered by Chinese manufacturers. It’s enabled us to offer a two-cap, four-year warranty.”