AKRON-Trelleborg Industri A.B. got its foothold in the U.S. in 1991 when the Swedish tire maker bought Hartville, Ohio-based Monarch Industrial Tire. But it has taken nearly four years for the tire maker to begin marketing its giant flotation tires-long a hit throughout Europe-to North American farmers.
Part of the problem is the nature of U.S. tire dealers, said Ron Oberlander, a Trelleborg Monarch Inc. distributor in North Dakota.
``How can I say this without sounding mean? They're slow to accept new products,'' said Mr. Oberlander of Trellco Tire U.S.A.
To combat the sluggish U.S. dealer network, Mr. Oberlander has marketed Trelleborg Twin farm tires directly to farmers west of the Mississippi River for the past year. A second sales rep is working the Eastern U.S.
Selling direct to end users is helping spread the word about the benefits of the Trelleborg Twin tires, Mr. Oberlander contends, noting he hasn't given up on independent tire dealers.
``The normal dealer network is reluctant to take on a new product until they see how the consumer responds,'' he said. ``So you can take a consumer who is using your product, and is excited about it, and turn him loose. It's much easier to get the market excited about it.''
Farmers who are using the tires are acting as Trelleborg Monarch representatives themselves, selling additional product to other farmers, Mr. Oberlander said.
Strong European demand for the farm tires also has hampered the company's ability to export tires to the U.S. market, according to Christer Rosberg, Trelleborg Monarch market manager for pneumatic tires.
Trelleborg, which posted 1993 tire sales of $130 million, began manufacturing its Twin tires in the early 1950s. The name ``Twin'' denotes that the tires have ``been developed and designed by combining the best properties of conventional radial and cross-ply tires,'' the company said.
The tires are constructed with a bias-ply carcass layered with radial belts underneath the tread and operate at pressures of as little as 7 psi, the firm said.
The low air pressures coupled with a wide contact patch help distribute a tractor's weight over a large area, thereby reducing soil compaction. The footprint for a Trelleborg 750 Twin is greater than three 20.8R42 tires, Mr. Oberlander said.
The tires are popular with European farmers, who have to contend with weather conditions that favor soil compaction, he said. Smaller-sized European farms force farmers to pass over the land more frequently than their U.S. counterparts, adding to the compaction rate.
Trelleborg also claims its tires can increase a farmer's yield from 5 to 20 percent. Furthermore, it said the bias-belted design eliminates power hop, a phenomenon experienced when torque builds up in radial tires causing tractors to bounce violently.
``As tractors and combines have gotten bigger in weight and higher horsepower, we find that the old tire technology simply can't do the job anymore,'' Mr. Oberlander said.
The sluggish U.S. marketing ef-fort may be over for the Swedish manufacturer, according to Mr. Rosburg, who said simply, ``It's our time, now.''
Mr. Oberlander said he agreed, in part because he believes the lengthy United Rubber Workers union strikes have created farm tire shortages stretching as long as six or seven months.
``I think the worst shortage of ag tires we've ever seen in the history of the United States is going on right now,'' he said.
Because manufacturers are earmarking production of many common farm tire sizes for original equipment manufacturers, he said, many farmers are beginning to see the Trelleborg tires as a replacement tire alternative.
That, along with a growing number of farmers marketing the tires to their neighbors, is increasing demand for Trelleborg imports. Eventually, the firm hopes to make its Twin tires in the U.S., putting Trelleborg in a position to increase its North American market share, Mr. Oberlander said.