DES MOINES, Iowa—Although radialization has revolutionized passenger tire design, many radial refinements have yet to penetrate the world of farm tires. But the improved performance of application-specific tires—spawned by the changes radialization has brought—soon will enter the farm tire arena, according to the tire industry's youngest player: Titan TireCorp.
The company, a unit of Titan Wheel International Inc., plans to introduce nearly 200 new tire designs meant to redefine how farmers view their tires, according to Titan's flamboyant Chairman and CEO, Morry Taylor.
Mr. Taylor recently spoke with TIRE BUSINESS about where farm tire technology is headed—or, perhaps put more correctly, where he believes his company is taking the industry.
Since Titan Wheel entered the tire business in 1993, the firm's sales have increased steadily, from $150 million that year to nearly $700 million in 1996.
The company expects to top the $1 billion mark in the next 18 months aided, in part, by production from its Brownsville, Texas, plant, currently under construction.
That plant will help produce a new breed of Titan tire, according to Mr. Taylor, who said his vision of the next-generation farm tire and wheel packages incorporates technology borrowed from radial passenger tire designs.
Among other changes, Mr. Taylor contends rim
technology, which changed in the passenger tire mar-ket to the 15-degree rim with the advent of the radial, also can improve farm tires.
For example, some of Titan's new tires will retain their same outside diameter, but have shorter—and therefore stiffer—sidewalls supported by larger wheels. In one instance, the rim diameter will increase from 16.5 to 20.5 inches, he said.
Stiffer sidewalls, which have been a trademark of high performance passenger tires for years, can offer many of the same benefits to farm machinery, he said.
Bouncing backhoes, for instance, will be a thing of the past, Mr. Taylor assured.
The driving force behind the company's new technology is the idea of providing farmers the ability to choose application-specific tires designed by a company whose sole focus is off-highway original equipment and replacement products.
``Those backhoes are designed specifically for the jobs the OEM built them for. But if you look at the tires, the tires are the same ag tire of 25 years ago,'' Mr. Taylor said.
Titan's new tires, which will begin hitting the market through its 2,400 dealers this year, will help the company expand its market share considerably, he said.
``There is no sense for Titan to grow in the future if we're going to make the same tire,'' he said. ``The name is out there for the big boys (Goodyear, Firestone and Michelin). That's an endless fight.''
The company has plans for 182 new tire designs, Mr. Taylor said, and plans to pump up its development efforts with a new tech facility in Akron.
``I can think things up quicker than we can make them all, that's the problem,'' he said.
Mr. Taylor fully expects his competitors to attack the merit of his new tire designs. ``I respect our big competitors. I truthfully believe they don't give us any respect. But that's the way we have to have it.
``They'll be out there pooh-poohing our designs,'' he said, but added that many doubted the merit of the radial tire when it first appeared on the market.
Why didn't someone else come up with these same ideas years ago?
``In the farm industry, the big boys were not interested in redesigning the tires to be in the radial mode like auto and light truck,'' Mr. Taylor said.
The primary focus of Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Michelin North America is the replacement auto and light truck markets, Mr. Taylor suggested. In contrast, Titan's sole focus is off-highway tires and wheels.
That focus makes it easier for Titan to justify the enormous expense radical changes to its farm tire molds—which cost at least $500,000 to $600,000 each—will cost, he said.
``I'm not a tire guy, I'm a tool and die maker, and I might have found a way to make those molds cheaper,'' Mr. Taylor added.
Coupled with its new tire designs, the company's recent reorganization into separate tire and wheel divisions, Titan Tire Corp. and Titan Wheel Corp., will
help Titan Wheel reach its goal of becoming No. 1 in the farm/construction tire business worldwide, Mr. Taylor said.
Sales staffs from both organizations can better focus under the restructured company. For instance, 85 percent of the company's wheel sales go to OE manufacturers, while 75 percent of the firm's tires go into the aftermarket.
With separate presidents over both organizations, Mr. Taylor said he will be able to devote more time to acquisitions and product development.
How confident is Mr. Taylor that the track his company is on will be successful?
``I think one of them (Goodyear, Firestone or Michelin) in the next three to four years will exit the farm/construction side,'' he said. ``As soon as there's a downturn, they'll start looking to get out.''