February 28, 2017 10:00 PM, EST

Cooper Manages to Juggle Goals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cooper Tires increased commercial vehicle tire sales by 13% in 2016 over the previous year, largely by selling trailer tires to trailer makers and replacement units in the aftermarket, a company executive said.

“Wabash National is a big partner of ours, and in October we launched with TravelCenters and Petro,” Gary Schroeder, director of global truck and bus tires, said on Feb. 28.

Based in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper has grown internationally with a 65% investment in GRT Rubber, a Chinese manufacturer.

Schroeder said the tires are designed and engineered in Ohio and then made in China. Some of the production there is sold in Asia and some returns to North America.

“We source tires at plants for high-value, well-priced tires,” Schroeder said at the Cooper booth at the Technology & Maintenance Council's annual meeting here.

While trailer tires are the bulk of Cooper’s truck business, the company also makes tractor tires and displayed a new drive tire in the exhibit hall.

Schroeder said it has a deep tread, 30/32 of an inch, and is designed to take two retreadings.

Management at Cooper is an artful juggling act, he said.

“We’re in the value section, but there’s a tremendous amount of engineering in each tire,” Schroeder said, adding that it usually takes three to five years to introduce a new tire, including two or three rounds of testing.

“We employ Ph.D. chemists to work on compounds,” he said. Today’s North American truck tires are not even 50% rubber, so high is the use of synthetic compounds.

In addition to maximizing quality while containing cost, Schroeder also said Cooper works to simultaneously maintain durability, fuel efficiency, light weight and traction — both wet and dry.

“It’s very tough,” Schroeder said of the task. “It used to be that if you improved one factor, the other two would pop out. Now you have to push in for all goals and not have anything pop out."