product against competitive UHP tires.
Cooper officials readily admit they are behind in the market, but are confident that they have the resources needed to make a big splash. "An UHP tire wasn’t a stretch for us technologically," says Carl Casalbore, vice president of retail sales and high performance tire development. "Right now, we’re playing catch up with the competition, but I assure you that in two years we will be a leader, if not the leader."
Since 1993, Cooper Tire has invested some $50 million in upgrading its technology, including the addition of a new research and development center and mold manufacturing facility in Findlay, new design and virtual testing software systems, and the test center in Texas, according to Dick Stephens, president.
"We have been very quiet about our technology," Stephens says. "We set some very aggressive goals and we’ve come a long, long way in the last year."
The new UHP emphasis is part of Cooper’s overall goal of having new products account for 25% of its overall sales each year, he says.
"The profitability of UHP is undeniable, and over the last 10 years, Cooper has worked to become a technology leader in the industry," Stephens says.
Fast Track Development
"We undertook our UHP initiative a year ago, and did two and a half years of work in under 12 months," says Casalbore of the effort to create the Zeon line. Cooper’s plan is to develop UHP products that are on par with "tier one products," he says, but at competitive pricing levels, "not against tier one lines tires you can make money on."
With new Zeon 2XS and the realignment of some existing products, Cooper has covered most performance segments, Casalbore says. Cooper will soon roll out other Zeon lines, including the Zeon ZPT, an H-rated M+S tire for the "price sensitive" 15- to 18-inch tuner segment; the Zeon XST for the sport truck segment; and a new "max performance" product and a competition tire in 2004. In addition, Cooper realigned its OE replacement Lifeliner products, such as the H- and V-rated Lifeliner Touring SLE and the W-rated Sport SLE, to fill portions of the performance product screen.
Dealers put the Zeon 2XS through its paces on wet and dry autocross courses and on a wet braking course, comparing it to other brands. Mark Jackson, performance marketing manager, says the goal was to show that the tire was on par with the competition.
Also on hand was former IRL racer Johnny Unser, who was recently signed by Cooper to serve as "performance tire advisor." Unser worked with Cooper to put the finishing touches on the Zeon 2XS. "What they have here is a tire that stands with the big names brands eye to eye and this is a ground-up, out-of-the-gate performance tire," he says. "It makes no excuses. I’m impressed."
The W-rated Zeon 2XS is available in 29 sizes 195/55R15 through 275/35R18 ®“ with 19- and 20-inch sizes coming soon. The UTQG 280 AA-A tire features a directional tread pattern with twin center channels and angled, tapered sweeping grooves that help clear water while maintaining high tread-to-void ratio.
The solid center rib between the channels helps handling and responsiveness, says Cooper, while twin steel belts and a spiral nylon overwrap help durability, handling and high-speed stability. The tread compound includes a "chemically coupled" silica and carbon black mix to enhance wet traction and tread wear.