AKRON-``Green Acres'' may have been the place to be for the couple on that old TV sitcom, but Continental General Tire Inc. is having second thoughts about it. The tire maker is close to making a decision on whether or not to exit the rear farm tire manufacturing business altogether. Two years ago, faced with high production costs and dwindling sales, the company got out of the front farm tire market.
Currently, CGT makes only bias rear farm tires-at its Mayfield, Ky., plant, which is predominantly a radial passenger and light truck facility. An official said the company has decided it will not enter the radial rear farm tire market: ``It's too costly.''
``We make an excellent farm tire,'' said Wayne Mitchell, director of CGT's off-the-road tire business, ``but it's 30 to 40 pounds heavier than our respective competitors' tires.''
Due to a decline in the bias rear farm tire market, exacerbated by escalating costs of natural rubber, remaining in the farm tire business ``doesn't look good, from a profit point of view,'' he said.
So probably by the end of the month-``once we get through the harvest season''-CGT will decide to either outsource its farm tire production or completely abandon the business.
CGT is evaluating outsourcing, but ``unless a company is prepared to invest in new molds to take away that cost disadvantage, I can't see it becoming a win-win (situation),'' Mr. Mitchell said.
Exploratory talks on outsourcing held between CGT and Indian tire maker Apollo Tyres Ltd. proved fruitless for a number of reasons, including a supply gap while production would be relocated, and prohibitive shipping costs.
In the last couple of years, farm tire sales have not been very good for CGT, which Mr. Mitchell estimated holds about 5 percent of a market that's rapidly converting to radials.
It's the same old story: ``A lot of suppliers and pressure on price and margin,'' he said. ``According to our math, we estimate that the (industry's) rear farm replacement business saw a 20-percent decline this year'' over 1994.
Some, though not all of that, can possibly be blamed on the protracted strikes at plants operated by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., a major player in the farm tire market.
``When you weigh all the negatives and read between the lines, the decision (to leave the farm market) will probably become obvious,'' Mr. Mitchell said.
Instead, CGT would continue to expand and capitalize on its growing radial medium truck, as well as passenger and light truck businesses, replacing farm tire production at the Mayfield plant with other radial products, he said. No job cuts there are anticipated.
That would also free more resources for the company's Bryan, Ohio, factory, which handles CGT's ``core'' giant tire and ``booming'' timber skid businesses.
However, CGT would still hold a slim link to the farm market via the limited radial rear farm offering of its German parent, Continental A.G.
Mr. Mitchell said CGT is looking at the possibility of importing some of those tires, but hasn't made that decision yet ``because of a current supply situation.'' The company does have a limited supply of Conti-made farm tires in the U.S. ``to support the Conti original equipment business they have in Europe, for any tractors that may end up in North America.''
An exit from the farm market would not leave CGT customers in the lurch, he added, because most professional farm tire dealers offer two or three other lines and General was ``probably third or fourth in the pecking order, anyway. . . .''