Cloyes Gear & Products has mastered the art of timing – both for automobile engines and in the much broader sense. William Bunch reports on how this Arkansas-based company is looking to a future as a global supplier on the cutting edge of new engine technologies.
They say that timing is everything, and nobody knows that better than the people at Cloyes Gear & Products. Ever since the company was founded back in the 1920s, this industry leader in the manufacturing of automobile timing components has been able to shift gears in mesh with a changing industry, making state-of-the-art sprockets and branching out into powdered metal components, all while dealing with major shifts in the labor force and in the way auto parts are marketed.
Today, Cloyes Gear is looking down the road, and it sees the auto industry moving toward cam phasers, or variable valve timing, which is a system that allows the valve timing to vary, based on engine speed and thus helps to optimize the amount of power available throughout the engine’s entire RPM range.
Mike Madley, the Cloyes vice president of OE sales, said that variable valve timing “improves the fuel economy and reduces engine emissions. It’s like air bags were 10 years ago – it’s a rapidly growing business. It’s important for us to be a player.”
Raymond Cloyes, who started the business by manufacturing replacement-timing gears for trucks and automobiles, founded the company in the early 1920s in Cleveland, Ohio. Cloyes also made some gears for OEM automotive customers as well as for industrial and government applications. The company’s period of rapid growth began in the early 1950s, when Harry D. Myers acquired Cloyes Gear. The firm is still owned by the Myers family a half-century later. In the early 1960s, the company – which had been hit by labor troubles at its Cleveland facility – constructed a plant in Paris, Ark., the small town in northwestern Arkansas that would eventually become the firm’s headquarters. Cloyes’ biggest innovation may have been it’s major expansion in the aftermarket business, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Cloyes was the first to offer a line of replacement timing components to fit essentially any product with an internal combustion engine. A sales network was developed nationwide, with salespeople calling on and selling to auto parts warehouse distributors. “Cloyes had several warehouses and direct salesmen located strategically around the country and then started shipping parts to warehouse distributors, they built a network that way,” Madley said. This approach to the aftermarket continues to set Cloyes apart from its competition today, and the company now has relationships with many of the leading retailers, including NAPA, CarQuest, O’Reilly and AutoZone. Cloyes distributes timing components under the Cloyes name as well as various others.
Cloyes also has a well-regarded name in the race-engine parts business. Many of the top name racing teams have Cloyes timing drives in their cars. In fact, Cloyes has a number of patents relating to its high performance line, which began around 1970 with the introduction of the TRUE(r) line of timing sets, the first set to use a true roller timing chain. In 1992 Cloyes turned the industry on it’s edge with the introduction of it’s Hex-A-Just(r) timing system that allows the engine builder to easily adjust cam timing.
In the late 1970s, Cloyes established a sales office in Detroit and OEM automotive sales increased rapidly. Cloyes soon was supplying GM, Ford and Chrysler with many more parts than it was selling in the aftermarket. With the influx of powdered metal, or PM, parts into the timing business both in the aftermarket and in the OEM sector, Cloyes began to buy PM crankshaft sprockets from Rush Metals in Billings, Okla. Cloyes bought Rush in 1980. In 1986, Rush began selling its first OEM automotive part to Chrysler, and today it produces a mix of OEM automotive, industrial and aftermarket parts.Cloyes recently became a tier two supplier to Aisin Automotive for cam phaser components, and officials expect that to be a growing source of business for Cloyes Gear. “This has now become a major focus of our strategy in terms of growth,” Madley said. He expects the interest in variable valve timing to continue to grow both with the skyrocketing price of gasoline and with likely tighter federal emissions standards.
To Detroit and Beyond
Madley noted that some of the changes in the company were driven by changes in the way that the major automakers managed the supply chain. In the early 1990s, chain manufacturers were now considered tier one suppliers, which bumped Cloyes Gears down to tier two. To increase its visibility, the company teamed with a British chain manufacturer called Brampton-Reynolds PLC. “Now we were back to tier one, and a complete system supplier,” Madley said. “Since 1994, that partnership has been very successful at winning cam drive engine systems. All told, we do about four-and-a-half engine systems a year.”
Cloyes Gears built the Subiaco, Ark., plant in 1987 to support the increase in its high-volume machined sprocket business. To support increasing use of PM in camshaft drive systems, a 1990 expansion added PM compacting equipment.
In 1996, Cloyes Gears purchased RFR Technologies, a manufacturer of inverted tooth timing chain and transmission drive chain. The facility is now located in Subiaco, Ark. In 2002, Cloyes Gear announced it had acquired the assets of Dynagear Inc.’s timing component business. Dynagear Timing, based in Downers Grove, Ill., is an aftermarket manufacturer of automotive timing components that had filed for bankruptcy protection in April of that year.
With its growing success domestically, Cloyes Brakes has looked increasingly to overseas markets in recent years. Cloyes Gear opened its European headquarters in Zittau, Germany in 2002, drawn by the quality of the German labor market. The vast production hall – a joint venture with the Japanese Sumitoro Corp. – is filled with machines that stamp powdered metal into gears that are then baked and sent on to the factories of carmakers like Skoda and Opel, just across the border in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Madley said the company has also been working with Sumitoro to market its products to Japanese auto manufacturers and other Asian concerns. “Right now there is an exploratory evaluation going on whether we would want to locate there, although there is nothing we can say right now.”
With an output comprised of 98-percent automotive parts, the company’s facilities measure more than 250,000 square feet, and produce more than 20 million gears and sprockets annually, including a wide range of diameters and densities. Needless to say, automotive production will continue to be the company’s focus.
“We could do motorcycles or electric utility equipment,” Madley said, noting that the company successfully takes on much larger automotive competitors. But the company would rather focus on the tight niche it now has. After all, shifting gears doesn’t do any good unless you keep your eyes on the road.