LAWTON/FORT SILL, Okla.-Goodyear is committing $250 million over four to five years to make its 24-year-old Lawton/Fort Sill passenger tire plant the company's primary source of larger-diameter passenger and light truck tires to meet growing demand from North American vehicle makers.
In the process, Lawton/Fort Sill will become a showcase for the company's Impact production system, according to John G. Loulan, vice president, operations, manufacturing and supply chain.
Goodyear is still awaiting the results of a March 12 tax referendum by voters in Lawton/Fort Sill, Mr. Loulan said, before giving the final go-ahead for the project. That referendum would earmark $3 million over five years to activities related to the expansion. Oklahoma state officials are studying incentives, as well, Mr. Loulan said.
As planned, the expansion/modernization would focus on new tire building and curing equipment capable of producing tires in rim diameters of 17 inches and larger, a spokesman said. Although tires in these dimensions still represent only a fraction of the total market, Mr. Loulan said, demand for 18-, 19-, 20-inch and larger tires is growing at rates 10 times that for the market as a whole.
Demand growth for these type tires is coming from three primary sources, he said: P-metric fitments for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles; speed-rated, high-performance tires for a widening range of performance-oriented vehicles; and low-profile, appearance performance tires to go with larger-diameter aftermarket custom wheels.
Roughly 85 to 90 percent of the plant's output is for original equipment accounts, Mr. Loulan said.
The project includes a 175,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the 1.84 million-sq.-ft. plant to accommodate a new production line based on elements of the Impact-Integrated Manufacturing/Precision Assembled/Cellular Technology-system, Mr. Loulan said, along with 325,000 square feet of new warehousing space.
Once the project gets the final green light, work on the new production space will start in order to make room for a hot-former tire component calender. This piece of equipment is designed to enhance precision manufacturing, the company has said in the past, and is the centerpiece of the Impact technology.
New mixing technology upstream and curing technology downstream are in development, but for now Goodyear will invest in more conventional tire curing presses to handle the larger sized tires to be made at Lawton/Fort Sill, Mr. Loulan said.
Production from the new line could start within seven to eight months, he said. Once the new line is on stream, Goodyear can start to replace other production lines on a steady basis, so as not to disrupt capacity to any great degree.
The first phase, valued at $125 million, should be completed in 18 to 24 months. The second phase, also valued at $125 million, would then be implemented at a timetable deemed appropriate at that time, a spokesman said.
The plant's overall capacity of 65,000 units a day is not expected to change measurably, Mr. Loulan said, but the new product mix of larger diameter tires will result in a tonnage increase of roughly 10 percent. No change in mixing capacity at the plant is scheduled, though, since Goodyear is able to take advantage of its company-wide mixing capacity if necessary, he said.
The additional warehousing space will allow the company to keep more than a day's production on hand and ship the proper mix of sizes to OE customers from Lawton/Fort Sill instead of having to ship to a secondary mixing warehouse, said Mr. Loulan, who worked at the Oklahoma plant for 11 years, including 51/2 as plant manager.
Goodyear said the factory revamp would create about 100 new jobs at the 2,300-employee, non-union plant.
A spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America said the union doesn't think production of these larger diameter tires will be limited to the Lawton plant. Goodyear and the union meet quarterly to discuss issues regarding work relations and production, and reviewing capital expenditures is always on the agenda; it will be discussed further, the spokesman said.
Crain News Service's Brad Dawson contributed to this report.