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Nike readies for rollout of new Air Max

The Associated Press

BEAVERTON ' Oregon-based Nike is prepping for the launch of the latest incarnation of the sneaker that shot the company to the head of the athletic shoe pack.

Later this month, the company will roll out its eighth Air Max running shoe ' at a suggested retail price of &

36;160.

The original shoe got consumers buying sneakers for show, not just for wear. Now, thanks to new manufacturing techniques and design, Nike promises a shoe cushioned heel to toe with air pockets, eliminating foam from the midsole.

Both retailers and analysts said initial shipments likely won't meet demand. Nike said it plans to ship more pairs in time for fall, Tom Hartge, Nike's creative director for advanced initiatives, told The Oregonian newspaper.

The new Air Max comes as the company's market share in the category has held flat and customers have craved something new, industry analysts and retailers said.

— Sneakers with Nike's Shox cushioning system have been popular, said Matt Powell, contributing editor for the industry publication Sports Executive Weekly, but the latest model, more than 2 years old, is nearing the end of its fashion cycle, he said.

Nike has prepared TV commercials and print ads to coincide with the launch. In addition, athletic footwear retailers such as The Finish Line are planning in-store promotions.

The chain has high expectations for the Air Max and thinks it could be a top revenue product, depending on how many Nike makes available, said Tim Geis, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for The Finish Line.

The new shoe, Nike's Hartge said, achieves what designers envisioned when they embraced an idea offered by Frank Rudy, an aerospace engineer who invented the air cushioning that Nike adopted. Designers imagined an all-air, no-foam midsole based on the concept that air would provide lighter, more durable cushioning than foam.

In the shoe's earliest incarnations, the most notable feature was the window cut into the sole, showing the clear air pocket cushion inside.

Each new version got closer to the original vision. Designers inserted larger air bags in one version. They added air bags to the forefoot in another. In 1997, they installed full-length air bags, which still incorporated some foam.

But now, through a new way of manufacturing the cushioning, called thermoforming, designers can better manipulate the air bag so that it is pinned down in some spots and allowed to bulge in others, providing the structured cushioning that used to come from foam.

Nike found out about the new process in part because it was trying to meet a company mandate to create products in more environmentally sustainable ways.

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Information from: The Oregonian,