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Editorial: Cooper moves forward with R&D focus

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Roy Armes, chairman and CEO at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., doesn't like the term “rebound” used in reference to what his company is accomplishing. Perhaps he'd prefer the phrase “moving forward.”

But whatever the language chosen, the Findlay, Ohio-based tire maker clearly is leaving behind last year's failed merger with India's Apollo Tyre Ltd.

Halfway through 2014, things clearly are looking up for Cooper. The company, which posted 2013 sales of $3.44 billion, has its long-term sights set on boosting that to between $5 billion and $6 billion, with an operating margin of 10 percent.

One key aspect is Cooper's emphasis on technology and research and development. A couple of decades back, the tire manufacturer had a reputation as a firm that waited for competitors to push forward tire development, and then quickly followed suit with similar products of its own. While not quite a copy cat method of R&D, it didn't cost Cooper nearly as much as the trailblazers were spending.

Clearly, this is a different Cooper when it comes to technology. In June, Cooper Tire Asia relocated its Shanghai technical operation to a 54,000-sq.-ft. facility near its Kunshan, China, tire factory. That R&D center will boast a staff of 65 scientists and tire engineers.

Now Cooper is going forward with plans for its new $35.5 million Global Technical Center to be located at its headquarters in Findlay. The project was first announced in early 2013 but was put on hold during the Apollo merger talks. The company said the R&D showcase will be operating by the end of 2014 and eventually be the home to a technical staff of 40.

At the festivities to announce the investment, Armes and Chuck Yurkovich, vice president, global research and development at Cooper, talked about how Cooper has been working on boosting its technical capabilities in recent years. Yurkovich said the tire firm will focus on technological leadership, leveraging its R&D globally and creating customer value.

These are the type of moves Cooper needs to make to forge its own path to the future—whether you call it a rebound or not.