U.S. Plant is a Nokian Milestone

Jan. 24, 2020

Nokian Tyres plc has taken a big step forward in fulfilling its goal of doubling sales in North America with the ope  ning of its consumer tire plant in Dayton, Tenn.

The plant is in the final months of test production, with full-scale tire production expected to begin in early 2020. But the company didn’t wait to celebrate its first tire factory in North America, hosting tire dealers and dignitaries at a grand opening event Oct. 2.

At full capacity, the plant will produce four million passenger and light truck tires a year. And as production expands, it will fuel Nokian’s stated goal of doubling sales in North America by 2023.

Hille Korhonen, CEO of Nokian, told Modern Tire Dealer, “We are already selling more than two million tires to the North American market. The growth is supported by this factory, but also by adding new products that have been designed for this market.”Korhonen said there are more new products “already in the pipeline” for next year and 2021. And while work will continue to expand the company’s winter and all-weather tire lineups, for North America the all-season tire is key. “We are focusing on light trucks and SUVs,” she said.

The opening was capped off with a brief ceremony and celebration inside the factory. The Rhea County High School band played the “Star Spangled Banner.” Many of the plant’s 100-plus employees were on hand to greet visitors and lead tours. “This place represents sustainable relationships,” said Peter Chia, operations director and plant manager.

Local leaders celebrated those relationships, too. Current Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and former Gov. Bill Haslam both welcomed the company and thanked it for the $360 million investment.

Even though Nokian’s tire production facility is complete, there’s still more construction on tap for the site. A solar-powered administration building will be built next door in 2020. A pond and green space will be added to the front of the property. A warehouse with the capacity for 600,000 tires will also be built.

Inside the factory, Caleb Webb oversees the 265,000-square-foot mixing department, which includes two, five-story mixers in operation. A third mixer, which will double the factory’s output, will be commissioned in August 2020. The first two mixers give the plant the capacity to build 3,000 to 6,000 tires during a single shift.

Automated tire building machines produce a green tire every 35 to 45 seconds, said Supervisor Cedric Spivey. The time varies based on the size and number of plies in the tire.

The RFID chip-enabled tires move on overhead conveyor belts to the curing department, and then enter one of the 48 currently operational presses. (There will be 64 presses eventually.) A typical passenger tire takes about 12 minutes to cure.

Focusing on dealers

Asked about Nokian’s work to expand its dealer network, Mark Earl, senior vice president of North America for Nokian, said the company has done a little bit of work in that area — but only a little. And that’s deliberate.

“Our primary focus is on supporting the dealers that we have. Most of the dealers who sell our products are very dedicated. They’ve been asking for more tires, different kinds of tires and better availability, and so this factory is there for them.

“I think by word of mouth we’re going to continue to grow across the country.”

Earl also expects growth to come as Nokian continues to expand its product lineup.

“We’re adding products all the time that are more and more appropriate for other parts of the country. Our focus up until now has been primarily the northern parts of the country, the colder climates.

“We’re beginning to diversify our product line, so we have more product lines that are more appropriate for other parts of the country.”    ■

A White House Welcome

In an unexpected twist, President Donald Trump hosted Finland President Sauli Niinistö at the White House the same day Nokian opened its plant in Tennessee. The company got a shout out from Trump during a press conference featuring both leaders.

The plant is creating “hundreds of brand new, beautiful jobs” in “a great state — Tennessee,” said Trump. “We love Tennessee.”

Trump added that the tire maker made a wise choice in choosing the state. “You never lose when you go to Tennessee.

“I encourage other Finnish companies to increase their investments in the United States,” Trump said. “There has simply never been a better time to do business in America. We want Finnish companies to join in America’s extraordinary economic revival. So many countries are coming in. It’s the hot place. We have the hottest economy in the world.”

The One Light Truck Tire

To coincide with the plant opening, Nokian unveiled a new product for the North American market. The Nokian One HT tire is a premium, all-season tire for light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

The light truck world is a space where Nokian is committing to compete. And the marketing message that surrounds its newest tire works for both consumers and dealers, said Steve Bourassa, manager of passenger and light truck products for Nokian.The tire is designed with the North American market in mind and replaces the Rotiiva HT tire. “It’s the one for safety. It’s the one for toughness. It’s the one for you.” The product features:

 Grip claws between the tread blocks that improve the tire’s grip on snow and ice, especially when braking and accelerating. Step supports give the middle rib steering precision. Channel sipes enhance the tire’s braking grip.

Expanded use of aramid fibers beyond the sidewall and for the first time, extension of aramid technology under the tire’s tread — in the light truck sizes. (Nokian calls it “aramid armor.”) This improves the tire’s durability against punctures, as well as impact resistance.

The company said the tire is designed with the light truck driver in mind. It’s been tested around the globe, from the company’s winter test track in Finland to the roads of South Africa.

In the United States, tests included diverse landscapes, environments and seasons in Texas, Utah and California.

The tire also highlights Nokian’s focus on sustainability. It’s made with a low-rolling-resistance compound, aiding fuel efficiency, and the compound is free of any carcinogenic elements.

The Nokian One HT will be manufactured at the company’s new plant in Dayton, Tenn., and will be available in January 2020 to consumers in 36 sizes for wheels ranging from 16 to 22 inches. LT sizes are available in R and S speed ratings; the P-metric sizes are T- and H-rated. The P-metric sizes come with a 70,000-mile limited tread wear warranty. The warranty for LT sizes is 55,000 miles.

“Long tread life is key for pickup drivers,” said Bourassa. “We can offer our mileage warranty and know with good confidence we’ll meet it.”

Alongside its introduction of more all-season products for the North American market, Hans Dyhrman, director of marketing, said the tire maker invested in marketing the Nokian brand with its largest advertising campaign ever in North America this past fall. It includes both print and digital campaigns. One element is Google search ads that target consumers and steer them to local Nokian tire dealers. “Our investments are paying off.”

The launch of the Nokian One HT will follow that same plan, Dyhrman said, with increased print and online advertising, plus new videos, in-store materials, social content and event sponsorships.

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.