ALBANY, Ga.-Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., a neophyte in the production of all-steel medium radial truck tires, is coming of age in this segment. The Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker, which first began making its own medium radial truck tires in 1993, will hike production of them to 670 units a day by July, up from 450.
Beyond this, plans call for eventually boosting capacity to 1,300 tires a day in Albany-depending on demand, said John Fahl, president of Cooper's tire division.
Cooper got a late start in manufacturing the highly technical all-steel medium truck radials, admitted Chairman Patrick W. Rooney, and was a good 15 years behind the competition when it entered this tire category.
But the firm has moved rapidly to boost production and develop what it claims is a line that equals the industry's best.
``There was no time for trial and error,'' Mr. Rooney said, once the company decided to make its own medium radial truck tires. ``It was a case that we had to hit the market with a product that performed, and performed in comparison with those competitors that have had the product on the market for many years.''
Early on, Cooper said it experienced irregular wear problems with the tires. But after making significant construction changes to them, ``we have had no durability problems,'' said D. Richard Stephens, vice president technical.
``We think the product has excellent durability, is retreadable, provides long tread life, with even wear,'' he said. ``It's an excellent over-the-highway tire.''
Cooper is making three all-steel medium radial truck tires in Albany-the CXML 440 drive tire and the CT 240 free-rolling tire, both available in four sizes, and the CXMT 340 rib highway tire in seven sizes. More sizes probably will be added in late 1995 or early 1996, Mr. Rooney said.
Prior to initiating its own production of medium truck radials, Cooper contracted to have them made by two other tire makers-Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. in Japan from 1980-89, and Kumho & Co. Inc. in South Korea from 1990-93.
For years, Cooper has made its own bias medium truck tires and also makes two lines of heavy-duty all-steel radial light truck tires.
Mr. Rooney said Cooper entered the all-steel medium radial truck tire business to enhance the firm's position with its primary customers-independent tire dealers.
``Our feeling is, we as a company needed to address the issue of medium radial truck tires in order to supply our dealers with a complete program,'' he said. ``We wanted, I guess, a sort of a one-stop shopping philosophy.''
Beyond that, Cooper wanted to keep other tire makers from getting a foot in the door with its customers. ``If you have the ability to satisfy all (the dealer's) needs in those areas, you possibly can keep it so the competition doesn't take your passenger tire business and small truck,'' Mr. Rooney said.
Cooper is building its all-steel medium radial truck tires exclusively at its sprawling 1.8 million-sq.-ft. facility in Albany-an abandoned Firestone plant the company bought in 1990.
That plant, which Cooper acquired for expansion purposes, also makes 10,500 passenger radials and 350 all-steel LT tires daily. And there's room to grow.
As medium truck radial production revs up, Mr. Rooney said the company's focus is on meeting the needs of its house brands, primarily Cooper and Mastercraft.
Cooper, he added, has no plans to seek major long haul freight line or national account business.
Nor does Cooper have illusions of overtaking the industry's leaders in medium radial truck tires.
``We're never going to be the biggest in this business,'' Mr. Rooney said. ``But we're planning on being one of the best.''