For Hankook Tire America Corp.,  2017 saw the opening of its first North American production plant, the release of a made-in-USA tire and a sustained brand awareness campaign orchestrated from its new headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

The company says all the activities add up to a significant shift in its focus – an aggressive market penetration strategy aimed at elevating the Korea-based company to the top tier of the American tire market.

President Hosung Suh reviewed his company’s accomplishments over the last year in an article sent to Modern Tire Dealer by Hankook.  The article has been edited.

First Factory in the U.S.

Hankook officially unveiled its state-of-the-art production plant in in Clarksville, Tenn., in October. The grand opening ceremony, attended by dignitaries such as Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and United States Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, rallied customers, allies and employees in celebration of the 1.5-million-square-foot plant.

The company says the ceremony was the official culmination of years of intensive planning and hiring. When 40 VIPs gathered to cut the ribbon, they were christening a facility that had been ramping up tire production for several months and had already provided a groundswell of economic impact for the surrounding community in the form of approximately 1,000 new jobs.

“We were honored and excited to celebrate the opening of the Tennessee Plant alongside our friends and partners,” Suh said. “We believe the plant will help sustain the economic health of Northern Middle Tennessee for decades to come.”

The 469-acre plant serves as a vital instrument in Hankook Tire’s growth strategy. At full production capacity, Phase One of the facility will produce 5.5 million tires per year. The increased volume – manufactured in close proximity to the company’s five U.S. warehouses – aims to escalate sales and simplify distribution channels, allowing Hankook to more efficiently fill the increasing demand for its tires.

“Having a plant in North America will significantly benefit our sales and distribution strategy in this market,” said Suh. “We have already begun to enjoy the advantages it brings us in the areas of distribution, sales and marketing.”

New Kinergy PT produced in Tennessee

One of those new products, the Kinergy PT (H737), is exclusively made at the Clarksville plant and was designed with American drivers’ needs in mind. Hankook launched the tire in September.

Hankook says that In three months, the Kinergy PT has received elite marks from reviewers and fueled sales growth for Hankook in the passenger tire segment. The Kinergy PT uses a specially formulated tire compound to enhance traction in all conditions and a strong rolling resistance profile to improve mileage performance.

“The Kinergy PT is the first of many made-in-America products that aim to shape Hankook Tire’s success in the American market,” Suh said. “It is energizing to read such positive reviews of this innovative product, which was engineered by our world-renowned research and development specialists.”  

More OE fitments

The company says a series of new original equipment (OE) relationships also helped cement its status in the American market.

In October, the company announced that it would serve as the main OE supplier for the Honda Accord, fitting its Kinergy GT model on one of America’s most popular sedans.

Nearly simultaneously, Hankook announced that it would also equip select models of the 2018 Toyota Camry with the KINERGY GT. The Camry was the top-selling passenger car in the United States in 2016.

Hankook also deepened its relationship with Nissan through delivery of an innovative tire for the Nissan Rogue -- the tire company's first in North America with sound-absorbing "silent foam." Nissan will fit the tire on its 2018 Rogue SV.

“Strong original equipment relationships are vital to our success in America, and we are gratified to see automotive manufacturers recognize our commitment to innovation, safety and performance,” said Suh.

Marketing Campaigns Raise Awareness

Aggressive marketing campaigns elevated awareness of the company among key audiences, according to Hankook.

Perhaps the most visible initiative was the company’s Major League Baseball signage campaign. The Hankook logo appeared prominently in 27 MLB ballparks.

Hankook also displayed signage in nine NBA arenas and sponsored the ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball Game of the Week.

Support for Disabled American Veterans

2017 marked the third year of Hankook Tire’s relationship with Disabled American Veterans, an organization committed to providing support to veterans and their families.

Hankook hosted six mobile service office (MSO) stops at tire dealerships in every major region of the country, from Fayetteville, North Carolina to Yucca Valley, Calif. The MSO stops served three times more veterans in 2017 than in 2016, when Hankook sponsored four stops.

“Hankook Tire admires the sacrifice American military veterans have made and wishes to serve them just as they have served us,” Suh said. “Our DAV program is one small way we can show our appreciation and support.”

Looking Toward 2018

As Hankook gears up for 2018, it seeks to capitalize on a surge of momentum in order to further bolster its burgeoning market position. Production at the Tennessee pant continues to escalate, the company will unveil new products to satisfy growing demand, and new marketing and PR campaigns aim to deepen the company’s relationship with the public.

“While we are energized by the positive events of 2017, we are not satisfied,” said Suh. “Hankook Tire is hungry for success in America and excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.”

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