Interview With Cooper Tire’s Bill Hoban (by Jeff Short)

Recently I was speaking with Bill Hoban about Cooper’s Roadmaster lineScreen Shot 2015-07-29 at 11.22.31 AM and the commercial truck tire market in general. Bill was giving me so much information that I had to ask him if he’d like to sit down for an interview so that all of our customers could hear what he has to say. Bill is Cooper’s National Truck Tire Sales Manager. He has been with Cooper for 20 years and before that, Michelin (where I first met him) for 11 years.

JS: Bill, I’ll start with the classic question. How are sales?

BH: 2015 sales are good, but we have plans for an even stronger second half. The new products that launched in last 6-8 months are proving themselves. Customers are starting to realize how good the products are and how well they are performing. And I really think that’s going to drive business from the Tier 1 and Tier 2 brands. Tier 1 being Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, and Continental and Tier 2 being Yokohama, Toyo, Firestone. We offer a tire with a Tier 3 price point and Tier 1 and Tier 2 performance.

JS: On the whole “tier” subject. I hear some people say Roadmasters are made in China, therefore they are the same as other Chinese tires. How do you reply when someone says that to you?

BH: I tell them yes, they are made in China, but they are made to very strict standards that our U.S. engineers require.

they are made to very strict standards that our U.S. engineers require.

Roadmasters are manufactured on new, first class equipment, under the same standards as if they were built in U.S. Every Roadmaster tire is uniformity tested and X-rayed before the tires are released. That is something that a lot of other manufacturers do not do. It takes more money and time, but it really makes a difference.

JS: Have you heard that some of your competitors just use one compound for all their truck tires?

BH: I have heard that, and I think in many cases, it’s true. It’s one of the reasons that they can come to market with such a low price point. We use 4 or 5 compounds depending on the application. These different compounds include a cut and chip resistant compound, a SmartWay compound for fuel efficiency, a line haul compound for long distance over the road applications, and a regional compound to withstand harsh twisting and turning environments. We are constantly working with compounds as technology improves and we will tweak and modify those compounds if we think it’s going to lead to a better performing product.

JS: Your tires say, “Roadmaster Engineered by Cooper” on the sidewall. What does that mean to a dealer as opposed to selling a tire with a more exotic name?

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 1.47.27 PMBH: I think the Roadmaster name is being established more & more in the market place. We have O.E. contracts with large trailer manufacturers and a fantastic loyal dealer network to back up the products. And let’s not forget the Cooper name. It does carry a lot of weight. We celebrated our 100 year anniversary last year in North America and having been in business for 100 years, many people know our brand, quality and products.

JS: The tire sidewall says “Engineered by Cooper Tire.” Explain how that works. Some people might think that the tire is designed in China.

BH: Good question. The Chinese brands we compete against are designed and engineered in China. Roadmasters are 100% designed and engineered in the U.S. for American roads. We have some very sharp engineers in Findlay Ohio, many with PHDs, that are designing the construction of the tire, the compounding, the tread design, everything is designed here and that really makes a difference. We also have higher speeds and heavier loads than most countries.

JS: Do you have test tracks or run on public highways? How do you know your tire is good on an American road?

BH: When we produce a new tire, it has to undergo thousands and in some cases millions of miles of testing with various fleets in the U.S. We use Ryder trucks that haul Cooper Tires from warehouse to warehouse. Those vehicles run 15,000 miles per month. We also use fleets down south where the temperatures are hotter. We want to represent the whole country. We have fleets in California, the Northeast, and the Southeast. We find fleets that fit our requirements, place the tires and track them to see how well they run.

JS: I saw a news article that showed a concrete pad that you were using to torture test your trailer tires.

BH: Yes. That was for our new 255/70R22.5 RM272. Many times they’re put on a spread axle flatbed application, where the front axle is scrubbed sideways. It’s a tough application. We wanted to design a new tire to perform better. The only way to replicate that application was to tear up some concrete and re-pour it to the standards that we wanted. Basically we were going after a bridge decking type surface. That’s a very abrasive surface. We ran many tests with various tires and compounds and we’re able to come up with a package that we think is going to perform very well. That is the extent that our engineers are willing to go to, to ensure that we build a tire that we are proud of and will earn the right to have the Roadmaster and Cooper names on the sidewall. (To see the news article click HERE)

JS: You have several new products, the RM234 and the RM852. Please describe them and tell us how they are performing.

BH:

Keep in mind, when we design tires, we are benchmarking against Tier 1 brands. That’s the performance level that we aim for. Other manufacturers have a Tier 1, Tier 2 and a Tier 3 lineup. They don’t want their Tier 3 tire to perform at Tier 1 or Tier 2 levels, because that would take business away from their premium lines.

Yes, they’re our new premium products that we have launched in the last year or so. The RM234 is our regional 22.5/32nds deep, all position tire, primarily designed for steer, but I also have customers placing them on trailers and they are performing very well.Keep in mind, when we design tires, we are benchmarking against Tier 1 brands. That’s the performance level that we aim for. Other manufacturers have a Tier 1, Tier 2 and a Tier 3 lineup. They don’t want their Tier 3 tire to perform at Tier 1 or Tier 2 levels, because that would take business away from their premium lines. The RM234 also has a wider tread design than the RM185, which makes a big difference. Between the new tread depth, the wider tread width and new compounding, we know we have a great tire that performs extremely well. The RM852 is a 30/32nd deep, closed shoulder drive tire. It’s also a very wide design with new compounding. On all of our fleet tests in line haul applications, the tire is performing well for over 300,000 miles. In regional applications it’s also performing extremely well, beating some Tier 1 and Tier 2 brands.

JS: Do you have any other new products coming out?

BH: Yes. We currently have the RM230WB. In some applications it’s a little too aggressive. We’ve listened to dealers concerns, so we have a new wide base tire we are launching in early Q1 of 2016 – it’s going to be more of a ribbed design which is where the market has shifted. They are currently being tested, and the results are very positive. We are also launching next month, a new 315/80R22.5 RM230WH (waste hauler), we have tested this tire extensively, in various sanitation and dump truck fleets. The tire has 24/32nds and it’s a very wide tire (requires a 280mm cap), which is what the Tier 1 brands offer. One fleet in California liked the tire so much they have started to buy nothing but the RM230WH. They are the first fleet to get our new production. They were running Bridgestone and Continental, but have decided to go exclusively with the RM230WH.

JS: How are retreaders doing with the Roadmaster line?

BH: The Roadmaster casing is very solid. We have 4 full width steel belts that protect all the grooves on the tires. To illustrate our confidence in our tires, we have an industry leading casing warranty.

This is very aggressive and shows our confidence in our products. We are in line with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers warranty programs.

We offer a 6 year warranty for the popular lines. If they don’t cap the first time, we have a $90 casing allowance. If they don’t cap the second time, there is a $60 casing allowance. This is very aggressive and shows our confidence in our products. We are in line with the Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers warranty programs.

JS: What are you seeing with pricing on truck tires? Are low-end tires driving pricing down in the market?

BH: We have seen that. There are many more Chinese brands entering the U.S. market. I just looked at the U.S. SmartWay website this morning. There are now 193 Chinese brands listed. 2 years ago there were only 25. We are differentiating Roadmaster from those brands with our technology and compounding.

JS: It sounds like we’ll be stocking even more tires than ever before. Roadmaster is a good size line. How does it compare to your competitors when it comes to market coverage?

BH: We now offer over 80 SKU’s in our lineup and cover all standard truck applications. We produce on/off road, SmartWay, regional, we have the 17.5 sizes, 19.5 sizes, and we’re looking at some other new sizes. Right now we’re working on a 445/50R22.5, which is the tire that replaces the duals on tractors and some straight trucks. We are going to continue to build and offer what our customers demand and need. That is what sets us apart from our competitors that have a limited SKU offering. A one stop shop is what Roadmaster has to offer.

Something else we are very proud of is Tire Review’s survey of 2000 commercial dealers last fall. They asked these dealers to rate 16 commercial tire brands. Roadmaster finished in the top 2 or 3 places in many categories. The one we were most proud of was on overall quality. Roadmaster was ranked third after Bridgestone & Michelin. We finished ahead of Goodyear, Yokohama and Continental.

That summarizes a lot of what I’ve said today. Roadmaster is establishing a name based on quality and performance and customers appreciate our value. You always have to start somewhere. Bridgestone started 40 years ago without much of a name and look where they are now. Roadmaster is still in its infancy, but we’ve got a strong tailwind behind us because we have such a great product at a great price point.

JS: Thank you for taking the time to bring us up to date.

BH: I’d like to say a special Thank You to all of your dealers for making us successful. We couldn’t do it without them.

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