A year ago Falken Tire Corp. was investing its money into marketing itself as the Official Tire of Major League Baseball. This year, the tire maker is spending that money on independent tire dealers.
The new investment is in Falken Academy, a two-day training session that features one day in the classroom and another day behind the wheel on the track and trail in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., home of the headquarters for Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc. (SRNA). Falken is a division of SRNA. The academy is an opportunity for Falken to meet face-to-face with dealers and tell them Falken’s story. It's a far more extensive training program than the company has ever offered. Falken’s history lesson is woven into its current projects and future goals.
In 2017 Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. (SRI), Falken’s parent company, was the fifth largest tire manufacturer in the world, measured in annual sales. Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing for Falken, says the company is “the fourth largest tire supplier to the U.S. market. We’re bigger than Cooper.”
Some of Falken’s growth has come as a result of its push into the original equipment business. In 2015 the company was OE on two vehicles. As of June 2018, the company has 21 fitments, but Brennan alluded to “24 fitments on the ground now and we’ve got a lot more coming.” The company also is working to switch former Dunlop OE products to Falken-branded tires. Under the dissolution agreement between SRI and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in late 2015, Goodyear kept hold of the rights to the Dunlop brand name for passenger and commercial tires in the U.S. Brennan says the company wants to make sure it captures the replacement market for those tires.
Though that Goodyear deal gave the Dunlop consumer and commercial brand away, it landed Falken a U.S. manufacturing plant near Buffalo in Tonawanda, N.Y., which dealers hope will help the company provide a more steady stream of products in the future.
Brennan says the plant will be producing OE tires “very soon.”
A new light truck tire is on the way One of the replacement tires Falken will build in Tonawanda is the new WildPeak H/T 02. Thirty of the 38 sizes will be made in the U.S., and the tire is designed for truck customers who want a tire that looks like it belongs on a truck, not a minivan. The product’s LT sizes will be designated HD for heavy duty. The non-LT sizes will feature a 65,000-mile road hazard guarantee; the LT sizes will carry a 50,000 mile road hazard.
The tire will be offered in 10 new sizes that weren’t available in its previous version, the WildPeak H/T 01. Drew Howlett, product manager for light truck and SUV tires, says “we wanted to make sure we fill in OE replacement” sizes.
The product is scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018.
‘Tier 1 performance and Tier 2 value’
Whether it’s the marketing team or the engineers who are creating the company’s products, Falken is driving home a singular message about its tires. “We’re striving for Tier 1 performance and Tier 2 value,” says Bakari Howard, the corporate training supervisor who spearheads the Falken Academy classroom experience. It’s a message the company hopes to share with 1,500 guests during three sprints of Falken Academy sessions. The first was held in February, followed by two weeks in June and another round in August.
The guest list includes retail and commercial tire dealers, as well as wholesalers. There are regional distributor powerhouses like K&M Tire Inc. and Dunlap and Kyle Tire Co. Inc. on site, and retailers that represent businesses of every size, from Tire Rack Inc. to Black’s Tire Service Inc. to single-store operations such as John’s Tireman Inc. in nearby Victorville, Calif., and Pit Stop Tires in the small town of Monticello, Ky.