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LAS VEGAS—Chris Barbara took the helm at Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels in mid-October, but already the former key account executive for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has a company car in mind.

Specifically, the new Mickey Thompson president has his sights set on the 2007 Jeep JK the firm had on display at its SEMA Show booth in Las Vegas. Whether or not his request was a serious one, Mr. Barbara said he has his doubts it'll happen.

“I think for some reason they're more comfortable letting it go up and down mountains in Utah than letting me take it down a city street,” he joked with Tire Business.

But the car he's driving to work every day is less of a concern for him than what he does when he gets there. While Mr. Barbara said the company is still vetting out its long term goals, a short-term strategy is already in place.

“The good news is the senior management staff at Mickey Thompson has had a lot of the planning effort for the near term fairly mapped out,” he said. “They have a formalized strategic planning process that they've been using for over a year now, and I see my job coming in as to: A, Help understand it and understand why they want to do what they want to do; and B, Where can I step in and help enhance it, and take away some of the road blocks to success?”

Mr. Barbara brings 14 years' experience with Cooper Tire—which owns Mickey Thompson—to his new role, having served in sales, marketing and human resources roles at the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker. He said he believes his experience will help him in working with the Mickey Thompson team to define what the company's next steps are.

One of those next steps is breaking into new product segments, which the company did with the September launch of its Street Comp ultra-high-performance tire. The new tire, which was on display at SEMA, features an asymmetric tread pattern and was designed with superior wet and dry performance in mind.

The W- and Y-speed-rated tire has a UTQG rating of 300 AA A and is available in 18 sizes with wheel diameters ranging from 17 to 20 inches. More sizes will be added to the line in 2013, Mr. Barbara said.

 Competing in the ever-growing UHP segment will require a special touch, said Ken Warner, vice president of sales and marketing for Stow, Ohio-based Mickey Thompson.

“It's a very, very competitive, proliferated area,” he said. “If we're going to be successful entering that market we're going to have to take a very unique, focused approach.”

The company specifically is going after late-model American muscle cars and will try to enhance its Street Comp tire by packaging them with wheels.

“We're one of the few companies, if not the only one, that's had a successful run at marketing wheels along with our tires,” Mr. Warner said. “The way we're gonna go to market is package these tires and wheels.”

Mickey Thompson will enhance its wheel lineup with steel wheel offerings, providing consumers with options at a lower price point than its aluminum offerings.

Other areas of advancement in terms of products include the company's light truck tire program, which Mr. Warner said will include new designs and sizes with larger wheel diameters. In addition, the company is getting away from its traditional white letter tires.

“A lot of people said they just don't want the white,” Mr. Warner said. “They're always turning them inside out, so they just cover them up.”

But Mickey Thompson is working to do more than just grow and evolve its product lineup, as the company looks to expand its footprint on an international level.

“Mickey Thompson is going to stay very focused on success in North America, especially in the United States. This is our home turf,” Mr. Barbara said. “We're going to defend and build upon our home turf as the preeminent performance tire company. Then from an international standpoint, there's certain areas of the world where we have just really started to scratch the surface of our business opportunities internationally.”

Mr. Barbara didn't disclose the nature of Mickey Thompson's plans for international growth, but noted the company is focusing most of its efforts in Latin America.

“It's not a secret strategic initiative,” he said. “...We have some strong distribution in certain areas, so we have to, number one, make sure they know we're solidly behind them. Secondly, from that business development standpoint we see those countries closest to us on this side of the world as a key next step with a specific focus on looking at areas within Latin America.”

What Mr. Barbara said will not change is Mickey Thompson's legacy when it comes to its focus on “products for vehicles that need to be driven.”

“While we support and participate in the effort of having show cars and understanding that people want to keep those as perfect as possible, Mickey Thompson will always be there for those that are making their vehicle modifications on a functional basis, to get it done and make their vehicle perform better,” Mr. Barbara said.



To reach this reporter: wschertz@crain.com; 330-865-6148.
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Previous | Published December 6, 2018

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