GREENVILLE, S.C. (Feb. 21, 2002)—Michelin North America Inc. has equipment and facilities in place to enter the rubber tracks market. Exactly what it plans to do in that regard or when it plans to do it, however, is unclear.
While the Greenville-based tire maker wouldn't confirm its plans one way or the other, a Michelin executive did say “that we as a group are very much interested in developing the tread business” and he talked at some length about the rubber track market and opportunities there.
When asked whether the company was working with Case IH, a producer of large agricultural vehicles, on rubber track development, Clement Young, Michelin's executive vice president for the rubber track project/vice president of marketing and sales of agricultural tires said, “We've been working closely with them for tires. We've been looking for all the opportunities together.”
A Case spokeswoman also said the two companies are working together but would not give specific details about tracks. She said Case considers any such development of tracks as “proprietary information.”
Mr. Young predicted tracks will replace tires in the near future in some farm segments. He said in a few years Michelin will have “sufficient capacity” to meet that change in demand.
Mr. Young conceded that if Michelin were to enter the rubber tracks market, it would have to play catch-up, pointing out that other tire manufacturers invested in that segment years ago.
“As a rubber manufacturer, not only do we want to maintain our position in the (farm and off-road) market, but develop it,” he said. “We are convinced about the profitability, which we think will be higher in the earthmover and off-the-road tire areas.”
Mr. Young said he feels the rubber track industry is growing, particularly in agricultural areas.
“In the last five years this market segment has grown by 600 percent,” he said. “The market trend will be the same in the three to four coming years.”
In terms of any rubber track testing Michelin might be conducting, Mr. Young said “offically, no,” it is not doing any.
He did acknowledge the tire maker invested several years ago in manufacturing facilities for such products, but said he was not in a position to divulge how much was invested or what the production capacity is or might be.
“We are quite prepared to go to the market,” Mr. Young said. “That's part of our natural progression in the growth. In the very near future, we'll have officialized our strategy in track development.”