MALVERN, Pa.-It's not enough to just invent something. Robert W. Thomson discovered that along with his invention of a ``revolutionary'' pneumatic tire, for which he received in 1845 the first such patent of its kind.
He found he couldn't market the product, and it fell by history's wayside until successfully ``reinvented'' and marketed 43 years later by John Boyd Dunlop.
Malvern-based Twin Tire U.S.A. Inc. is hoping history will repeat itself.
The wholly owned subsidiary of publicly traded ATS Wheel Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia, will begin marketing its twin tire wheel system throughout the U.S. in January.
It's a product that has been around for a while. The concept-developed by Swiss engineer Jerry Juhan-made its U.S. debut about eight years ago, available in the replacement market for a select few high performance vehicles.
But it never really caught on.
Twin Tire incorporated in March, four months after ATS Wheel won a $1.9 million patent-infringement lawsuit that forced the Dallas-based company that had been marketing the product, Twin Tire Systems Inc., to drop it after failing to meet quotas.
In a nutshell, the twin tire concept actually places two independent tires on one wheel. The design, according to Roger Cole, Twin Tire U.S.A.'s vice president of product development, ``greatly'' reduces the risks involved with flat tires and high-speed blowouts.
The company, which admittedly has yet to conduct independent testing on the system, claims its tests show drivers can control a car after one tire blows out at speeds of up to 72 miles an hour.
The design also enhances wet-weather performance with its center channel, which resembles the host of aquachannel tires that have hit the market during the past two years, the company said.
Belief in the dual tire's potential to attract the American consumer has drawn some veteran tire retailers to the company.
Twin Tire President and CEO Richard Miesen had been president and owner of several National Tire Warehouse franchised outlets in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Texas until 1992, when he sold them to NTW's parent, Western Auto Supply Co., itself owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Thomas Pumpelly, who founded the NTW organization in 1971, has been retained by Twin Tire as a business consultant.
Twin Tire's marketing efforts will make or break the product, said Lee Napier, vice president of marketing and operations.
``A lot of people have seen this product before and may have a bad taste in their mouths because of the other company,'' Mr. Napier said. ``We have to change that.''
Until recently, a twin tire, the Anno-2000, was in limited production for five years by Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. through a joint Mitsubishi Corp.-Crimson Inc. venture called J.J.D. Japan Inc.
But it was marketed as a high performance tire for a limited number of relatively expensive cars. In contrast, the Twin Tire management team believes its tire can eventually blanket the U.S. passenger tire market.
Production is expected to begin later this year on a more general tire fitment, that will cover 50 percent of the cars being produced today, Mr. Cole said.
Instead of capitalizing on the tire's high performance handling characteristics, Twin Tire intends to go to market focused on a safety campaign designed to capture a wider audience, Mr. Napier said.
But the company is beginning almost from scratch.
Twin Tire is negotiating with a number of tire makers-including Goodyear, Michelin, General Tire, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Hankook Tire Manufacturing Co. Ltd., Avon Tyres Ltd. and Yokohama-with hopes that at least two will begin production. That, Mr. Cole said, would allow the product to enter the original equipment market in 1997.
The company also is looking at manufacturers for alloy and steel versions of its twin wheels.
Ultimately, the company intends to solicit U.S. dealers and distributors at industry trade shows, according to Mr. Napier.