Cooper Tire & Rubber is a real wheeler dealer. The company is the fourth-largest tire manufacturer in North America (behind the likes of Bridgestone, Michelin, and Goodyear). It makes and sells replacement tires mainly for passenger cars and light trucks, but also for motorcycles, race cars, commercial, and off-road vehicles for North American and international markets. Cooper operates seven manufacturing facilities and more than 35 distribution centers worldwide. Unlike some of its rivals, Cooper does not typically sell to automotive OEMs; instead it markets its tires to customers including independent tire dealers, wholesale distributors, and regional and national tire chains.
And the company is selling more of its tires, both domestically and internationally, as the automotive industry continues its road trip to economic recovery. In 2010 Cooper realized a boost in revenues of about 20% -- North American and International segments showed increases of 21% and 28%, respectively -- while its net income increased about 65% over 2009. The company attributes the rise to favorable pricing and foreign exchange rates, as well as higher unit volumes. Cooper Tire & Rubber was able, in part, to post gains due to reduced restructuring costs from prior years ($49 million in 2009). Even so, the company was forced in 2010 to close its Albany, Georgia, manufacturing facility, as well as reduce the UK headcount, racking up $20 million in restructuring charges for the year. Cooper Tire & Rubber believes that 2011 will see mature markets grow 2% to 3%, but it plans to manufacture 10% more tires to satisfy demand, as well as to rebuild inventory levels.
Weak market conditions, exacerbated by high rubber costs and the global recession, caused some potential customers to run on their old tires longer than usual, rather than replace them; however, demand for tires began returning in late 2009 and early 2010. As a result the company expanded its production capacity at its Arkansas plant to a 24/7 schedule beginning in 2010 to match the demand. Cooper also announced plans to expand operations at its Mississippi, Ohio, and Mexico manufacturing facilities. The company plans to grow its North American tire operations through relationships with independent dealers, as well as large regional and national tire retailers. In 2009 it finalized an agreement with Sears to supply passenger tires to its nationwide auto centers.
Cooper has a strategy of expanding globally through joint ventures and partially owned subsidiaries. These acquisitions and alliances in lower-cost countries, such as China and Mexico, help offset rising raw material costs. Its international tire segment caters primarily to the replacement markets in the UK, continental Europe, and Scandinavia. This segment is composed of two main joint venture manufacturing facilities in China.
UK operations continue to focus on serving European niche demand for high-performance, racing, and motorcycle tires. The company is also steadily increasing its production capabilities and presence in the Asia/Pacific region. It has two joint ventures in China -- Cooper Chengshan Tires and Cooper Kenda Tire -- which make tires for passenger vehicles and medium trucks. Cooper Tire is also building a presence in Mexico, where it has a majority stake in Corporación de Occidente, and full ownership of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. de Mexico. Though located on opposite sides of the world, China and Mexico share something in common -- they are both part of Cooper Tire's strategy to establish manufacturing facilities in lower-cost regions.
In addition to producing tires for civilian vehicles, Cooper Tire is onboard for the war effort, which is helping to expand its market share. It entered into a joint venture with Resilient Technologies in late 2008 to produce an airless military tire prototype. Troops get stranded every day due to flat tires caused by bad roads, bullets, or shrapnel. The two companies are employing polymer-based engineering to create a non-pneumatic tire (NPT) that will provide better mobility and reliability. The tire, which utilizes a honeycomb design and unique rim, is lighter than the standard Humvee tire and is retreadable; bullets pass through the tire without disabling it.