‘We continue to grow’
Like other truck tire manufacturers, Yokohama Tire Corp. is having a challenging year. But the company also is preparing for a brighter future by investing in its operations.
“We’re expanding our sales force,” says John Cooney, director of commercial sales for Yokohama. “We have a dedicated national account sales organization; we’re redefining that. And we’re paying more attention to our major fleet customers.”
In this CTD exclusive, Cooney discusses Yokohama’s current truck tire business, its ecologically conscious Z.environment line, and if the company sees the need to offer retreading in the United States.
CTD: What was Yokohama’s medium truck tire business like in 2007?
Cooney: In 2007, it was flat. The market was flat. But we maintained our market share last year both in OE and replacement sales. We were happy with that.
CTD: What’s the market looking like so far in 2008?
Cooney: Some dealers are up, some dealers are down, but when they analyze their major customers, they’re telling me business is down about 15%. I think that reflects what’s happening overall in the industry. We’ve talked with other customers — some of the travel plazas and truck stops — and their business is down.
Everyone is scrambling to increase their business and are reaching out to customers they haven’t previously paid attention to.
CTD: Would it be fair to say that’s what Yokohama is doing?
Cooney: We continue to grow. Recently we partnered with Travel Plazas of America (TA). We had previously done business with Petro and Speedco, which are now part of TA. So now Yokohama tires are available at over 200 TA and Petro locations coast to coast.
CTD: How is your Z.environment line developing from a truck tire perspective?
Cooney: A little over a year ago, we introduced the 703ZL drive tire; that’s taken off well for us. We just launched two other additions to that line: the 103ZR and 501ZA. The 103ZR is a 22/32 regional rib tire. We’re doing well with that and are ramping up production and expanding sizes. The 501ZA is available in two sizes right now: 11R22.5 and 11R24.5.
As fuel economy becomes more of an issue for our customers, the Z.environment line will become more popular.
CTD: Earlier this year at the Technology and Maintenance Council Show, Yokohama unveiled a wide-base truck tire that’s currently in the concept stage. (Parent company Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. has offered wide-base tires in Japan for years.) The tire is being tested in select fleets. How is it faring in those test situations?
Cooney: Very well. We now have (our wide-base) product running in about three different fleets. We know we’ve got the casing right, and we’re tuning the tire to the U.S. market in terms of tread design and compounding.
CTD: What’s your take on the wide-base market in general?
Cooney: The wide-base concept has merit, but it does have drawbacks. There are still questions about original tread life and retreadability, but it does offer a substantial weight savings over current dual applications.
CTD: With other truck tire manufacturers promoting a cradle-to-grave tire life and service concept, does Yokohama have plans to offer retreading in the U.S.?
Cooney: In Japan, we have a retread process, but probably less than 10% of casings are retreaded there. It’s a small part of the market. Right now I don’t see that we need to become a competitor to our current dealers.
Yokohama’s U.S. focus has been on the full service commercial tire dealer and the fleet customer. The majority of those dealers have millions of dollars invested in retread plants, facilities, service trucks, wheel refurbishing, and 24-hour fleet service. Our intention is to service those dealers.
Regarding original equipment fitments, he says Yokohama is actively pursuing positions with North American-based truck suppliers.
The company has been approached “by every major truck manufacturer,” Cooney notes.