AKRON—Since the introduction of its Grizz LSW tire/wheel package, Titan Tire Corp. has been touting the benefits of the system to anyone who'll listen—especially the major manufacturers of machinery such as skid-steers, farm tractors and construction equipment. The OEMs have been listening, but due to various factors, the biggest problem has been actually getting their hands on Titan's products for testing.
How well do they perform?
For a progress report, Tire Business contacted Gehl Co. and Deere & Co.—two equipment makers testing or already using LSWs.
Lee Walter is director of engineering for Gehl's new Madison, S.D., plant, dedicated to the design, testing and manufacture of skid-steer loaders. It has evaluated five Titan LSW sizes and is awaiting more.
Gehl has requested that its name be branded on the tires, he said, and also asked Titan for other changes including more bead/rim protection, and a change to the profile of the tires to give more of a crown rather than flat outside profile. A crowned tire, Mr. Walter explained, provides the best performance for skid-steers.
Reaction to the LSWs is mixed.
``We get some people in the field who are pro some other brand, and have said Titan tires don't last as long as somebody else's,'' he said. ``Then we follow up and find it's an especially rough application where you aren't going to get any tire life anyway. It's a real mixed bag out there.
``I don't know that there's any one tire out there that's a superior performer than the others....''
Titan has said bounce is a major affliction among skid-steers, and claims its LSW greatly reduces the problem. But Mr. Walter said a number of factors affect that condition, including tires, tire inflation, ground surface, wheel base and weight distribution. ``So it's difficult to say one brand is better than another....
``Basically, we've been pretty well satisfied with Titan's products,'' he continued. ``We've used some Titan tires, on and off, and soon as we've checked them out and gotten good customer feedback, we'd be in a position to put them on our approved tire list.
``The monkey's on (Titan's) back to get us their latest and greatest (tires).''
Gehl's evaluation process includes in-plant and field testing; the company uses tires from both Titan and its competitor, Galaxy Tire.
Meanwhile, Deere is in final testing on a trio of Titan skid-steer tires, including one LSW size that engineer Dave Doering said is ``the best of the three—so far it's working out pretty good.''
Deere also uses skid-steer tires supplied by Galaxy. In terms of treadwear, Mr. Doering has found both manufacturers' tires comparable. ``But the applications vary so widely, it's tough to come up with some big conclusions.''
He acknowledged skid-steer bounce is a hindrance—and ``the LSW greatly reduces bounce''—but said flats are a bigger problem.
``Because of the nature of skid-steers, the tires don't last very long. They're always turning and sliding sideways, so they wear out pretty quickly. You have to pay close attention to air pressure.''
Mr. Doering works in Deere's new Knoxville, Tenn., skid-steer factory, which began production a couple months ago. Though the company has sold skid-steers for more than 20 years, until its new Knoxville venture, it had never actually manufactured them itself.
As testing continues, Deere has begun using Titan tires in production. But deciding which tires come on a skid-steer ultimately is up to the customer, he said.
The LSW ``could definitely benefit'' Titan because the tires are much more productive,'' said securities analyst Elaine Thomson, vice president with Merill Lynch & Co. Inc.'s Equity Research Department in New York.
``It's a selling point for the people who make machinery: This is a new product, more productive, and will make their equipment more attractive,'' she said. ``But it's too early to tell, since Titan hasn't gotten that up to full production with a full-scale rollout yet.''
The LSW ``has potential, but right now it's difficult to see when that would benefit their earnings.''
Historically, Maurice ``Morry'' Taylor Jr., Titan International Inc.'s president and CEO, ``has done a very good job in terms of buying `distressed properties,' let's say, at a very attractive price, then turning them around and making them work,'' Ms. Thomson noted. However, Merrill Lynch has been cautious on Titan's stock because of ongoing labor strikes.
The strikes have been significantly impacting Titan's earnings, she said. ``It's difficult to see what the potential of the company is until it's back up to full production with everyone working.''