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Published on August 23, 2004

Radial tires expand in specialty applications

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Date Published August 23, 2004
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Specialty and industrial tire makers say they are beginning to produce radial versions of their tires as demand for these products becomes apparent.

``This area is so broad,'' said Jim Bamer, Goodyear marketing manager for farm and terra tires.

Radialization of specialty tires, in fact, seems to depend a great deal on a tire maker's particular specialties. At Goodyear, for example, its biggest specialty market is skid-steer tires, with major sidelines in golf cart and all-terrain vehicle tires, according to Bamer.

``In skid-steer tires, there's no radialization at all per se, though we do have a radial skid-steer tire made in Turkey,'' he said. ``There's no thought of radialization in golf cart tires now, but we are starting to make radial ATV tires.''

The key, Bamer said, is that there's not enough demand for radials-in either the original equipment or replacement markets-for any of the specialty tires Goodyear makes. There's also a lot of foreign competition in those markets, he said.

On the other hand, Michelin North America Inc. feels that ``replacement market radialization is really taking off,'' according to Todd Ramsey, Michelin marketing manager for its earthmover group.

Michelin's earthmover group covers a wide range of tires, including mining, skid-steer and industrial tires, Ramsey said. The tire maker's enthusiasm for radials is understandable, considering that it invented the technology, but not all of its industrial tires are radial, he said.

Consumers in the OE and replacement markets alike are buying more radials, Ramsey added. ``As the facts about the benefits of radials are more recognized in the marketplace, it's a no-brainer that there's a switch to radials because of the advantages radials offer.''

Greenball Corp., a Long Beach, Calif.-based private brander, has offered a Radial ST (Special Trailer) tire since 1996, and also makes some radial specialty light truck tires, according to Sales Manager Tom Beasley. The percentage of Greenball's radial-to-bias production is proprietary, he said, ``but a large number of our ST tires are radial in the 13-, 14- and 15-inch sizes.''

Kenda U.S.A., the Reynoldsburg, Ohio-based subsidiary of Taiwan's Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd., introduced its Karrier high-speed radial trailer tire in March 2001 to supplement its K550 lines of bias trailer tires, Kenda U.S.A. President James Yang said.

``We're still selling a lot of the K550 tires, but the overall market share of the Karrier tire is growing steadily with consumer demand,'' he said. ``The Goodyear Marathon used to be the only radial trailer tire on the market, but the Karrier tire now also is available.''

Kenda also recently introduced its K537 radial ATV tire, Yang said, and its forklift and skid-steer markets also are going radial. He estimated that about 40 percent of Kenda's production is radial.

Frank C. Randolph, Denman Tire Corp. vice president of quality and product technology, explained that the firm makes a variety of radials under its own name as well as for other marketers.

Denman manufactures Super Swamper and SSR Series specialty light truck tires-both radial and bias-ply-for Interco Tire Corp. in Rayne, La., Randolph said. It also makes specialty LT radials for the Parnelli Jones private brand. The Groundhog, Denman's own main line of specialty LT tires, comes in both radial and bias, he added.

In Randolph's view, the specialty LT market always will require both radial and bias models. On-highway applications, he said, need the tread life and traction radials can provide, whereas off-highway vehicles require the bias tire's sturdier sidewall.

Trying to quantify the growth of radialization on a percentage basis in the specialty tire market is difficult. The Rubber Manufacturers Association does not keep such figures, according to Steven Teslik, RMA vice president of management information services. Those kept by the tire makers themselves tend to cover their own businesses only.

Bamer said Goodyear has no figures regarding its radial vs. bias specialty tire sales. Randolph said that while Denman's radial sales are growing, they still represent ``well under 10 percent'' of the company's total business.

Ramsey, on the other hand, said OE sales of Michelin specialty tires, ``which have always led our radial market,'' encompass at least 65 percent of total production, while the company's replacement market is 45-percent radial.