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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

Cooper Tire seeks more of Chinese market

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

FINDLAY - Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. executives plan to look for more ventures to make tires for the Chinese market, setting the stage for annual sales there of $1 billion in five years.

That plan, revealed yesterday after the Fortune 500 firm had its annual shareholder meeting, was announced not long after the firm said it and a joint venture partner plan to make tires in China for export to North America and Europe.

The company and venture partner Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. invested $108 million this year to buy a stake in Korean tiremaker Kumho Tire Co., said Thomas Dattilo, Cooper Tire's chairman and chief executive officer.

The Findlay Fortune 500 firm also is expanding its reach in Europe, where it will introduce its Cooper brand, said Philip Weaver, vice president and chief financial officer.

He addressed about 70 employees and shareholders yesterday at the meeting at Urbandski Catering on Manor Hill.

"Our growth strategy and vision for the future go far beyond North America," Mr. Weaver said.

Since Cooper Tire's last annual shareholder meeting, the company sold its auto-parts-making business - including two Bowling Green factories - for more than $1.2 billion so it could concentrate money and efforts on building tires. The company gained $119 million after taxes on the sale late last year, which turned out to be well timed because customers Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. have cut vehicle production, Mr. Weaver said.

High raw-material costs continue to plague Cooper Tire, which lost production of about 1.5 million tires during a monthlong strike this year at its factory in Texarkana, Ark. The company increased tire prices by up to 4 percent in March and plans a boost of up to 8 percent in June.

A majority of shareholders yesterday rejected a proposal from the New York City Employees Retirement System calling for Cooper Tire to issue annual reports disclosing its social, environmental, and economic performance. The firm's board recommended its defeat. The pension plan holds 107,000 shares.

Also yesterday, the company announced a quarterly dividend of 10.5 cents a share, payable June 30 to holders of record June 3.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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