QUINCY, Ill.—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, Miss., and Des Moines, Iowa, are laboring under longtime strikes by the United Steel Workers.
After considering licensing Titan's patented LSW technology to a major tire manufacturer—Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. or Michelin North America Inc.—Mr. Taylor cemented the deal with Caterpillar that will put that firm'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.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 Cat for testing on loaders and backhoes 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 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.
Titan recently debuted two eight-star radials for large aerial sprayers and just got machinery to start production on a new 11.00246.5 LSW. Mr. Taylor called it the world's largest radial for ag applications, meant to replace dual-tire configurations.
Based on prototypes Titan provided to Ingersoll-Rand Co., it recently got approval for an Ingersoll-branded LSW for telescopic handlers.
Last year 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 resizing the tire down to either 51.5 or 49.5 inches. One of the biggest problems Titan faces, he acknowledged, is being able to produce enough tires, especially LSWs, to meet demand.
The company's plants in Clinton, Tenn., and Des Moines manufacture the tire/wheel assemblies and will split production for backhoe 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 backhoe samples to a number of companies," he said. "I'm making 'em as fast as I can."
Businesswise, Mr. Taylor predicted 2000 will be a good year for the company as its percentage of the ag market grows. Yet he admitted if all the firms 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."