AKRON-Bias-ply tires continue to hang tough in the farm and construction markets despite recent gains by radials. Losing out to the radial in nearly all other sectors, bias-ply tires accounted for about 86 percent of original equipment tractor tire shipments in the U.S. last year and 95 percent of the aftermarket, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association. And although radial tires take the lion's share in large off-the-road applications, bias tires still hold about 20 percent of the market.
Some industry officials question the value of the radial in off-road applications.
``Who needs a radial if you're predominately or exclusively going to be driving off the road?'' said analyst Donald DeScenza, of DeScenza & Co. Inc.
The bias tire provides more value for most agricultural and construction uses, Mr. DeScenza said, without the need for a radial's long tread life.
Two Goodyear officials, however, see both the farm and OTR segments converting to radial much faster than the RMA data suggests.
In the long run, the radial costs less to use than the bias because it lasts longer and provides greater fuel savings, said Dave Harlin, Goodyear marketing manager of OTR tires.
``I would say the bias market's going to flatten, and the shrinkage will come in four to five years as more radial capacity becomes available,'' he said. ``We're trying to convert to radial as fast as we can invest.''
The RMA's figures on farm tire shipments don't accurately show the growing demand for the radial, according to Harry Millis, an analyst with Fundamental Research Inc.
``From talking to the manufacturers, the mix would be substantially higher in the farm radials than those numbers indicate,'' Mr. Millis said. ``What people are talking is 20 to 25 percent, and they're converting fairly quickly to radial.''
Jim Bamer, who manages Goodyear's farm and terra tires, also sees the radial growing from 20 percent of the rear farm tire market.
``If you talk to the OE, they all want to go radial, and the cost is getting closer all of the time,'' Mr. Bamer said.
The initial cost of a radial farm tire is about 25-30 percent more than its bias counterpart-down from double the price 10 years ago, he said.
There's growth potential in certain bias markets, such as utility tractors and construction loaders, but large rear tires and OE fitments more and more are using radials, he said.
The benefits of using radials on farm equipment are greatly exaggerated, said Maurice Taylor Jr., president and CEO of Titan Wheel International Inc., parent of Titan Tire Corp.
``A lot of that is just smoke and mirrors,'' Mr. Taylor said. ``I don't think the farmer always gets the value of what he paid for the radial.''
Despite Mr. Taylor's doubts, Titan is doubling its farm tire capacity-all in radials-at the firm's Des Moines, Iowa, plant because of market demand.
``It's advertising,'' he said. ``They're all out there touting the radial: `You might not even need the tractor-just the radial-to harvest a crop.' ''
Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. is selling more farm radials because they save fuel while providing more speed and power, said Bill Cunningham, marketing manager of commercial tires.
Still, bias tires hold 95 percent of the small rear and front farm tire replacement market, he said. ``I think farm's going to remain a bias-ply market for a long time.''