WHEELING, W.Va.—Some old tire names just never seem to die. Remember the ``Mohawk'' brand, once the pride and joy of the old Mohawk Rubber Co.? When Japan's Yokohama Rubber Co. bought that tire maker a number of years back and eventually put its namesake tire into deep, likely permanent hibernation, another famous brand seemed to go the way of other stalwarts such as Armstrong and Fisk.
But with the ``retro'' look in cars all the rage—notice Ford Motor Co.'s ``new'' Thunderbird, DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s Prowler and others—could new tires with old names be far behind?
The Fisk name was brought back a couple years ago by Discount Tire Co. of Arizona, and there are rumors Armstrong—and perhaps its rhino mascot—will make a comeback.
Now it's Mohawk's turn, though the new line can hardly be considered retro.
Independent Tire Sales Inc., a private brand marketer in Wheeling, and Friend Tire Co. in Monett, Mo., are sharing exclusivity rights to a resurrected Mohawk private label being manufacturerd by Yokohama Tire Corp. About 60 percent of the Mohawk line consists of new molds, particularly in light truck.
Friend Tire, in fact, was once owned by Mohawk Rubber, then Yokohama, before being sold to some of the company's former executives.
Joe Steger, president of Independent Tire, is ``excited'' about the rebirth, believing the Mohawk name still carries a lot of cache from the old days.
After acquiring Mohawk's tire plant in Salem, Va., Yokohama poured millions of dollars into fashioning what Mr. Steger called a state-of-the-art factory producing high-quality products.
``It's pretty exciting. We happened to be at the right place at the right time,'' he said.
The two private branders plan to market Mohawk passenger, high performance and light truck radials throughout the country, with Friend Tire claiming Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas up through the heartland into Iowa, while Independent Tire Sales will peddle it in the horseshoe surrounding those states.
In the past eight weeks, Mr. Steger has signed about 40 new distributors for the brand. ``It's a program designed for independent tire dealers,'' he said. ``We ship direct out of Columbus, Ohio, 5,000 pounds prepaid, and it's working very well for us.''
Following the must-do trend of many in the industry, the companies offer next-day deliveries.
``That's the way things are going now. You've really got to give good service and good supply,'' he said, noting, however, that ``exclusivity is still very important'' to dealers handling private brands.
And that's why he maintains his firm has seen success with Mohawk: ``There's nothing else made by Yokohama that's similar to it. It's one of a kind.''
Unfortunately, the tire gods giveth and taketh away.
For several years Independent Tire Sales marketed the Academy brand in a wide range of types, from passenger to medium truck to farm implement tires. ``We couldn't get supply from Bridgestone/Firestone,'' Mr. Steger said. ``They could barely take care of their own distributors, so we were a casualty of that.''
The brand has been shelved, its future uncertain.
``The private brand business is tough—we're all getting squeezed,'' he said. ``Between Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone/Firestone, they're going to try to do their own, from womb to tomb.
``And I don't know how much is going to be left.''
``Still, we're pretty optimistic, and always view our glass as half-full,'' Mr. Steger added. ``There's still a heck of a lot of independents out there that we can sell and that we have good relationships with. So we just keep going forward.''