AKRON (July 28, 2000) — Skid-steer loaders, which often bear names of animals—Bobcat or Mustang, for example—are a class of construction equipment seeing ever-increasing use in the 30 years since the versatile, nimble skid-steer concept was developed.
Tires on skid-steer units face unusual stress because there is no conventional steering system to change a skid-steer loader´s direction. Steering is accomplished by applying more drive to the wheels on one side of the machine, causing the unit to turn, while the tires on the other side skid along.
As a result, skid-steer tires usually wear out in about a year—more quickly than tires used on equipment with conventional steering. They also tend to be exposed to more than their share of rocks, mud and construction debris.
Some tire manufacturers, such as Titan International Inc., have capitalized on making tires for skid-steer loaders for years.
Titan´s alliance with Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar Inc., announced earlier this year, to provide Caterpillar-brand skid-steer tires for Caterpillar´s sales/service dealers and rental dealers should help cement Titan´s leadership position in the skid-steer tire marketplace.
"We have the largest range (of skid-steer tire sizes) of anyone," boasted Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan president and CEO. "They´re (Caterpillar) making a good move; we´re making a good move."
Caterpillar is on target with its program, which it is phasing in dealer by dealer in North America, said Michael Scott, general manager of parts products. "We´re very excited about the product, and we´re very excited about the growing dealer enthusiasm," he said.
Most of the Caterpillar´s 72 North American dealers are selling the tires now, he said. The company also eventually will provide tires to the 300 dealers who rent out Caterpillar equipment and will distribute tires to the international market, too.
Neither company would disclose how many Caterpillar-brand tires have been sold so far. However, Mr. Taylor did say Titan´s total output of skid-steer tires for the first half of the year was up 46.8 percent to more than 59,000 units—an increase fueled in part by the Caterpillar-brand program.
Mr. Taylor said Titan is still selling its lower-priced Trac Loader line of skid-steer tires, but the LSW (low sidewall) line—``the premium of all premiums´´—is where Titan is turning its attention.
In the fall, Titan will introduce a new line of LSW tires for the "turf industry" such as golf courses, Mr. Taylor said.
Titan has plenty of competition from a number of domestic and off-shore manufacturers in the skid-steer tire marketplace. And two of the Big Three tire manufacturers—Michelin North America and Bridgestone/ Firestone Inc.—also are ramping up their efforts in the skid-steer tire arena.
Late last year, Michelin entered the skid-steer tire market for the first time with the XZSL Stabil´X, the first radial skid-steer tire.
BFS will add new sizes to its Firestone-brand lines and test a new skid-steer tire next year.
"Since Michelin has been developing radial tires longer than any of the other manufacturers, we were able to use this technology," said Rich Austin, marketing segment manager for industrial and skid-steer tires for Michelin North America.
The XZSL costs roughly 50 percent more than comparable bias skid-steer tires, Mr. Austin said, but it has a lower overall operating cost. Tread life of the XZSL is two to six times longer, depending on the application, he said, and it has 80 percent fewer flats than bias-ply tires.
The XZSL, which is manufactured in France, currently is available in two sizes: 10R16.5 and 12R16.5. These two sizes represent more than 75 percent of the market, Mr. Austin said.
Michelin also has begun production of a larger size—2728.5R15—which will be available in the fall.
Mr. Austin said the XZSL is a premium tire designed to compete with the top products of other manufacturers.
Until now BFS´s Firestone Agricultural Tire Co. has been a "minor player" in the skid-steer market, acknowledged Len Wagner, manager of sales engineering. "It is our intent to grow that business," he said, "because the potential out there is tremendous."
Firestone is adding sizes to existing skid-steer lines and will begin testing the new Duplex DT Low Profile line of 55-series tires in mid-2001. The firm also will expand its Super Traction Duplex line from the current four sizes to 12 sizes by the end of 2001.
A non-directional Super Traction Duplex line is about to go to market in two sizes, with five more to be added before the end of next year. "We´re about ready to pounce on the marketplace with it," Mr. Wagner said.
All of Firestone´s skid-steers are bias tires, with an emphasis on lower profiles, he added. "The market is getting lower profile, with wider tires."
Part of the reason for this is an increased number of telescoping "man-lifter" pieces of equipment, and lower-profile tires make them more stable.
"If a tire goes flat for some reason," Mr. Wagner said, "if you´ve got a super-low-profile tire, the amount of deflection between the inflated tire and the uninflated tire is greatly reduced from a standard tire."
Both Firestone and Titan will continue to produce only bias-ply skid-steer tires for the foreseeable future.
"I guess if you´re going down the highway, like in a car, the radial would do a great job," Mr. Taylor said. He acknowledged the better rolling resistance and puncture resistance of radials, but said radials are less stable from side-to-side. Titan´s LSW tires with 1.25-inch thick sidewalls provide stability and durability, he said, especially with telescopic equipment.
"So, you´re asking about a (radial) skid-steer—it´s stupid," Mr. Taylor said.
BFS also has analyzed radial skid-steers, Mr. Wagner said. "I´m not sure what the advantages are. It´s very difficult to pick up any differences."
Noting the radial´s higher initial cost, Mr. Wagner acknowledged its durability and retreadability. However, he said, "At the moment, it looks like the bias tire still has the better value."
But Michelin´s Mr. Austin said he believes radial tires eventually will saturate this market the way they have for cars and trucks: "We foresee that radialization will continue to improve.|.|.|as the end-users continue to recognize the advantages and cost savings of radial tires."