Long known as a supplier of broadline tires, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. had some hot new performance treads on display at this year's Specialty Equipment Market Association/International Tire Expo in Las Vegas.
While Cooper has offered H-, V- and Z-rated performance tires in the past, the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker is making a concerted push in the growing high-performance tire arena and will introduce several new lines beginning this spring.
``This is a market we can make a dent in,'' said Mark Jackson, Cooper's marketing manager HP/UHP, during an interview at the company's booth on the trade-show floor. And the prospect for market-share growth looks promising, he said, considering, for example, the success Cooper has had in the low-rider tire market, where it has gained a 30-percent share ``by accident.''
``We know the performance tire market is growing, and we think there's room for us,'' he said.
Cooper is basing its new high-performance offerings on the racing heritage of Cooper-Avon Tyres, the firm's European tire operation, Mr. Jackson said.
At its booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the tire maker displayed the new Cooper-branded Zeon 2XS, a Z-rated performance tire featuring a V-shaped chevron tread pattern. The directional tire will come in 29 sizes and have a Uniform Tire Quality Grade of 280 AA/A.
A similar Mastercraft-badged version, the Avenger ZHP, also will be offered in the same number of sizes, but with a different tread pattern.
For pickup and sport-utility vehicles, Cooper showcased its first U.S. performance light truck tire, a still-unnamed radial the company is calling the Cooper sport light truck tire, for now.
It will offer the new tire in a total of 12 sizes in 2003, beginning with 17-, 18- and 20-inch versions in the spring, then adding 22- and 23-inch sizes in the fourth quarter. A 24-inch size is even on the horizon, Mr. Jackson said.
Cooper also is eyeing the development of track tires featuring its R (racing) compound and displayed a sample race tire in its booth. While such tires still are in the concept stage, Mr. Jackson said Cooper sees a market opportunity in offering Department of Transportation-approved track day tires for autocross participants, members of sports car clubs and other auto enthusiasts.
``This is a whole new horizon for us-a whole new world,'' Mr. Jackson said of Cooper's expansion in the performance segment of the tire market.
To support this new direction, Cooper is striving to train everyone in the company to not only understand the performance market but also to feel the enthusiasm that goes along with it.
``We want to build disciples on the inside (of the company) so that when it's time to launch (the new tires), we can build disciples on the outside,'' Mr. Jackson said.
He added: ``We don't want just the sales and marketing folks to get it-we want everyone to get it.''
To support its heightened interest in performance tires, Cooper has entered into racing in the U.S. in the last two years using its Avon brand, made in England, he said.
In the U.S., the company is involved in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing, specifically Formula Ford and Formula Continental among other classes, as well as the American Lemans Series. In Europe, Cooper is involved in Formula 3000 and Formula 3 racing, also using its Avon tires.
``This is exciting,'' Mr. Jackson said of Cooper's performance push. ``This is the fun stuff.''