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Hankook executives address hot topics

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Hankook executives address hot topics

Dr. Hwi Joong Kim, chief technology and production officer for Seoul, Korea-based Hankook Tire Co. Ltd., had a busy day on Friday, Oct. 2.

In the morning, he received the University of Akron’s 2009 Outstanding Alumni Award. (For more information, see "University of Akron honors Hankook’s Kim.”)

That evening, he and other Hankook officials, including Hankook Tire America Corp. President Greg Pae, sat down with the local trade press for a question-and-answer session.

Hankook is actively working on improving the low rolling resistance (LRR) of its tires, according to Kim. He said LLR technology centers on compounding and reducing the weight of the tire.

He estimated that engineers can reduce the weight of a tire by 10%, perhaps by using thinner strands of steel for the belts. However, he doesn't see completely eliminating steel from tires.

Pae, when asked about how the additional tariffs on Chinese consumer tires would affect Hankook, admitted that there will be a reduction in Chinese-made imports. The United States subsidiary of Hankook Tire Co. used to import 30% of its passenger and light truck tires from China.

Fortunately, continued Pae, Hankook's tire production is very flexible. The company already manufactured much of the product it made in China in both South Korea and China, so there will be minimum mold movement.

Kim added that the costs involved in producing tires in South Korea compared to China are, on average, the same except for wages, which are significantly lower in China.

Hankook officials also were asked about the possibility of Hankook building a plant in the U.S. Pae did not rule it out, although he said  the focus right now is on expanding capacity at the Hungary plant, which produces tires predominantly for the European market.

Calvin Pak, the parent company's corporate communications team manager, said Hankook is looking at increasing capacity by 25 million tires in the next four years, and that they have to come from somewhere.

Ray Labuda, vice president of tire technology for Hankook Tire America, says more plants are in the offing in the future, but no plant locations have been determined.

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