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Truck tire ramp-up

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Truck tire ramp-up

Over the last several years, Hankook Tire America Corp. has made a concerted effort to ramp up its medium truck tire business. The company has introduced new products and expanded its sales force. And on the distribution side, it has shifted from a container-based system to a warehouse-based system in an effort to improve service to dealers.

Hankook’s latest strategic maneuver has been the unveiling of its e3 (or e-Cubed) Technology for medium truck tires.

The technology is designed to “increase fuel economy (energy), allow for improved fuel savings and wear performance (economy), and minimize harmful carbon dioxide discharge (environment),” say company officials.

Commercial Tire Dealer (CTD) recently caught up with two Hankook executives — Brian Sheehey, director, commercial tire group, and Ray Labuda, vice president of tire technology — to discuss e3, as well as other programs and products that are in the works.

“We’re smaller than most manufacturers, so we have to work more efficiently,” says Sheehey. “We don’t go after everything. We’re going after things that will move our company along and will provide our dealers and fleets with savings.”

CTD: What are the critical elements of e3 Technology?

Labuda: e3 spins off of our Kontrol Technology approach. What it involves is a pretty comprehensive combination of different technical elements. It goes back to the methods of designing our truck tires and predicting the performance of our truck tires before they go to a mold.

We’re trying to maximize fuel economy with contour management... trying to optimize not only rolling resistance, but also retreadability and tread wear.

A lot of people think of the tread as the largest contributor to rolling resistance, but you have to worry about the whole tire’s contribution.

So we’ve developed compounds to improve the fuel efficiency of the tire.

CTD: What are the take-home benefits of the technology?

Labuda: It would show up in cost-per-mile. Certainly with diesel prices the way they are, that’s important. Lowering (a tire’s running) temperature also results in long-term retreadability. Those are things you can put in your pocket that will help your bottom line.

CTD: How long has e3 been in development?

Labuda: It’s more of an evolution than a specific development. These are things we’ve been working on for probably five to seven years. They all have come to fruition at different times. At this point, we thought that with some of our latest tread compounds we could package it up and give it the e3 name.

CTD: What tires will contain e3 Technology?

Sheehey: It’s going to be in our line-haul products. It’s going to start off with the AL11 and the DL09, our upcoming line haul steer and line haul drive tires.

CTD: When will those tires be available?

Sheehey: The first sizes of the drive tire are planned for the late fourth quarter of this year or early first quarter next year. That would be the low-profile 22.5-inch sizes. Then it’s going to follow suit through the beginning of the first quarter and second quarter. As we get rid of one size, we’ll introduce a new size, so the transition will be seamless.

CTD: Any plans for a trailer application?

Sheehey: It’s coming.

CTD: How do you plan to market e3? Is green a sellable concept to line-haul fleets?

Sheehey: Absolutely. It’s one of those things where regulations, technology and the end result all blend together for savings for everyone. No tire manufacturer is going to invest (in green technology) unless it’s going to save (the customer) money.

CTD: Can you bring us up to speed on Hankook’s truck tire program in the U.S.?

Sheehey: In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve hired more people to personally represent our products to the end users — the end users being not only fleets but also our dealers. They have to see a benefit to selling our product, too.

We’ve spent the bulk of the last three years changing our business model from a container base to a warehouse base. Container can only take you so far; it doesn’t grow as fast as dealing with your dealer partners. If you don’t have product on a consistent basis, you’re not going to enjoy (customers’) loyalty.

Market share is great, but it has to be profitable. And it has to be managed growth. We know who we are, we know who we want to be, and we have a steady, conservative plan to get there.

CTD: More manufacturers are introducing wide-base tires. Do you have plans to enter the wide-base truck tire segment?

Sheehey: We are currently in the testing stages regarding wide-base. Out at the 2009 Great West Truck Show (in June), we used that as our technology platform, sort of like a concept car. We had one of our concept (wide-base) tires out there. We definitely have plans to produce both a drive and a trailer.

“About four years ago, we came together with an eight-year plan,” says Sheehey. Developments like e3 Technology and a wide-base tire “are part of that plan. If things were the same as they were in 2005 and 2006, we could have grown larger... (but there has been) an unbelievable change in capacity.”

Despite that, “our plan is to bring on more tires than we did the previous year. You have to show the value of your products, but value only means something if you can really show a cost savings and it’s accepted by fleets.”    ■

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