QUINCY, Ill. (Feb. 8, 2000)—To listen to Maurice "Morry" Taylor Jr. talk, he´s a "slave" to Caterpillar Inc.—and lovin´ every minute of it.
Since signing a deal late last year to produce LSW (low-sidewall) tire and wheel assemblies for Cat´s skid-steer loaders, the Titan International Inc. president and CEO has got more work on back order than a fast-food restaurant at dinner time.
Caterpillar, the world´s largest construction equipment maker, "basically has, for this year, taken my LSW production and maxed me out," Mr. Taylor told Tire Business, sounding pretty cheery for a man who said he´s desperately trying to squeeze as much production as possible from his company´s tire factories. Two plants, in Natchez, Tenn., and Des Moines, Iowa, are laboring under long-time strikes by the United Steel Workers.
After considering licensing Titan´s patented LSW technology to a major tire manufacturer—read that Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. or Michelin North America Inc.—Mr. Taylor cemented the deal with Caterpillar that will put that company´s brand name on the sides of LSW skid-steer units. In turn, Cat plans to sell those LSWs in the aftermarket for fitment on other equipment makers´ skid-steer machinery.
That could mean a bonanza for Titan. At least that´s what Mr. Taylor´s counting on.
For a given 12-month period, he forecast sales of the Cat-branded LSWs could reach up to $45 million. "Caterpillar figures the aftermarket alone for just skid-steers is $250 million," he said, "and we´re the largest manufacturer of skid-steer tires in the world."
Titan also has sent LSW models to Caterpillar for testing on loaders and backhoes, he said, and recently signed an 18-month option with Deere & Co. to provide LSWs for John Deere skid-steers.
"We´re just moving up the feeding chain. All those people who worried I´d have to license (LSW) to Goodyear, Bridgestone or Michelin—well I just seemed to have found a big guy who happens to make the equipment and now is going to (take the LSWs) to the aftermarket for me," he said.
"Caterpillar had us tool all the wheels for fitment on everybody´s machines," including New Holland, Deere and Case Corp. "Now we´ll just go out and gobble up as much (business) as we can."
On the farm tire front, Titan recently introduced two "eight-star radials" for large aerial sprayers, Mr. Taylor said, and just got machinery to start production on a new 1100.46.5 LSW. He called it "the baddest of the bad´´—the world´s largest radial for agricultural applications, meant to replace the duals on big four wheelers.
"We´ve tested a number of LSW prototypes, but we´re really concentrating on moving the LSW up through the skid-steer lines," he said. However, based on prototypes Titan provided to Ingersoll-Rand Co., it recently got approval for an Ingersoll-branded LSW for telescopic handlers.
Last year during an interview, Mr. Taylor said Titan was set to start producing a 53.5-inch LSW for large farm tractors that it claimed would cure "road lope," a problem that occurs when a tractor is being driven at speed on a roadway while traveling between fields. But he said testing revealed that when a tractor hit a bump, the LSW often didn´t provide enough cushion and a bent wheel flange could result.
So the company is re-sizing the model down to either 51.5 or 49.5 inches. "We´re still developing it, but every time you do that it takes six months and costs $200,000," he lamented.
One of the biggest problems Titan faces, he acknowledged, is being able to produce enough tires and LSWs to meet demand.
The company´s plants in Clinton, Tenn., and Des Moines manufacture the tire/wheel assemblies and will split production for back hoe tires, while Titan is moving its standard skid-steer tire line into Natchez and Des Moines is retooling for the Ingersoll-branded telescopic handler units.
"I´m sold out on skid-steers, I´m already making two LSW sizes for aerial lifts and still supplying back hoe samples to a number of companies," he said. "I´m making ´em as fast as I can."
Titan recently signed an original equipment contract with the U.S. Government to produce super singles for military trucks, and he said "they´re moving pretty good."
Business-wise, he predicted 2000 will be a good year for the company. "Ag won´t grow, but our percentage of it will. If the ag business had not dropped 42 percent last year, we wouldn´t have lost money—it had nothing to do with the strikes. Our wheel business got slaughtered."
Yet Mr. Taylor admitted if all the companies currently considering Titan prototypes and samples begin ordering, "I´ll be in deep (trouble), and I know it."
For now, though, he said he´s "going to be Caterpillar´s slave—they´re going to be my master."