FINDLAY, Ohio-Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has begun supplying passenger car radials to Autobacs Seven Co. Ltd. of Japan. It's the most significant business deal Cooper has ever had in Japan, according to a company spokesman.
Initially, Cooper is producing two lines of radials with the Autobacs label: the Alfroad, an S-speed rated tire in 70 and 65 series sizes; and the Volteegu, H- and V-speed rated tires in 60, 55 and 50 series sizes.
The two lines are being made at Cooper's plants in Findlay; Texarkana, Ark.; and Tupelo, Miss.
Autobacs also has been named the exclusive supplier of Cooper-brand tires in Japan.
Autobacs, headquartered in Osaka, Japan, is the largest retailer of automotive tires, parts and accessories in Japan, Cooper said.
The firm has more than 350 franchised and company-owned stores in Japan and annual sales of $1.6 billion.
``This is a small deal in the short term,'' said Scott Soffen, analyst with Lehman Brothers Inc. ``The volumes will be small in the beginning, so for a $1.3 billion company like Cooper, it's a drop in the bucket.
``But in the long term, this could be a very big deal.''
The analyst said initially Cooper would supply about 1 percent of Autobacs' estimated $500 million in tire sales a year. Soffen said he expects that number to increase.
``Right now, Autobacs is just testing the waters,'' he said. ``They want to see how Cooper performs.''
But the analyst said he feels the Japanese firm is going into the deal with a lot of confidence in Cooper. In a prepared statement, Masao Sumino, executive vice president of Autobacs, called Cooper ``the world's best custom-branded aftermarket tire manufacturer.''
``That is a big compliment,'' Soffen said.