Alcar Wheelwright combatting “40% collapse” in UK market with Calibre range
Alcar Wheelwright managing director Kevin Greer has reported a notable area of success in a UK wheel market battling hard against a medium-term slump, which looks set to continue in many segments. The wheel aftermarket is described by the Kent based importer as “difficult and depressed”, but the company is playing up the success of its recently expanded Calibre range, which it says has seen a significant level of interest from both the UK and increasingly mainland Europe. Alcar says the retro styles: Eclipse, Vice, Bomb and especially Vintage fill a gap in a European “look market” it describes as “hungry”.
Greer explains: “it’s obvious that the aftermarket in the UK has collapsed by around 40 per cent in the past three years but we are still actually seeing an increase over the previous years in bigger diameter wheels and in the niche designs we have within our Calibre range.” Greer also believes that the lightest of commercial vehicles – a segment experiencing stronger growth than most others in terms of new vehicle registrations – is providing reasons to be optimistic: “van sales are also a massive growth area for us. Our technical and buying department set about in early 2009 commissioning the designs Trek, Tour and Voyage that were fully capable of carrying loads in excess of the gross capacity of most of today’s full size vans and these also are proving popular with our mainland European customers.”
While segmentised growth areas provide strong developmental possibilities for Alcar, Greer is confident that the immediate future will see no resurgence to the heady days of the last decade: “markets and trends come and go, but I don’t think we’ll see this market return to its previous heights; well, not in the near future anyway.”
However, just as the winter brought foreseen but unprecedented growth in the UK and European seasonal tyre markets, Greer believes the opportunity presents itself to the wheel aftermarket too: “There has been a trend recently, totally out of anybody’s control, which will potentially open up new markets to us, and that was the severe snow that the whole of the country experienced”. The Alcar group states that it is “the largest supplier of winter wheels in both steel and aluminium in Northern Europe” and says that last season it saw sales of around 4,000,000 steel wheels and a large quantity of aluminium winter wheels too. Greer says that Alcar is already planning for winter 2011 with a complete program of steel and alloy winter wheels.
“The problem, if you can call it that, with winter wheels and tyres is the fact that for well over 20 years we haven’t had serious amounts of snow and ice to justify people changing to winter tyres; normally it’s been a day of inconvenience and the following day it’s back to normal. Last year’s atrocious weather has put winter tyres to the fore and for this winter we will have a range of KFZ steel wheels and selected alloy wheels available for those who want to make the change to winter tyres. The beauty of our logistics means we’ll hold core stock at our facility in Kent and for anyone needing larger quantities, for car franchises for example, we can pull stock down from out two central German warehouses and conceivably have wheels ready for despatch within three days”.
Calibre product range
So what are the wheel models that are providing the kick in the niche segment? The latest wheel designs from Calibre’s 2011 portfolio include the Avant, the Friction, the Vice and the Xcalibre, all of which provide the cosmetic impact expected of wheels in this segment, according to Alcar. The Avant for example has a “polished, deep lip all the way through its sculpted spokes and pseudo split rim finish”. As part of Calibre’s new ‘Contemporary’ collection, Alcar describes the thinking behind its design as “decidedly OEM+ style language”, making for a rim that it says will look “at home on a wide variety of stock, ‘cleaned’ or modded vehicles”. Alcar says the two-tone finish is “hugely effective”, and is accentuated by the bowl in the centre of the machined face.
Calibre has given the Avant a wide range of fitments, covering Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Toyota and Subaru fitments in a range of suitable offsets. All come in an 8×18” casting. The company describes its pricing of £130 (all prices not including VAT) per wheel as “high-rolling style… priced for true enthusiasts.”
The brand’s Friction wheel design attempts to balance classical styling with motorsport design cues and fine paint detailing, according to Alcar. The new wheel attempts – in the words of Alcar – to offer “a sideways look at the tired multi-spoke genre”. The wheek features red highlights on each spoke edge, contrasting with the mile-deep black paintwork. The bolt face is deeply recessed into the heart of the wheel, while the arched profile of the spokes offers improved brake clearance, underlying its role as a high-performance essential.
Available in both 7×17” and 8×18” fitments in both 4 and 5 stud PCDs, the Friction is a two-stage heat-treated wheel, making it “more than able to withstand a little urban abuse” on the UK’s infamously potholed roads, the company asserts. All key PCDs are covered, including most Euro, VAG, Jap and Tuner cars, with prices starting at £111 for the 17” 4×100 fitment.
The Vice epitomises the 2011 range’s attempt to balance “the best of retro-inspired designs with the latest cutting edge manufacturing techniques”, according to Alcar. Based on “a swap-meet rarity”, the wheel uses pseudo split-rim detailing and deeply lacquered diamond polishing designed to “suit a massive range of retro and modern day machinery”, says Alcar. “Although the designers have been unashamedly looking backwards, Calibre’s engineers have ensured that this rim ticks all of the modern-day boxes with regard to finish and durability. All Calibre wheels are heat-treated and enjoy class-leading levels of surface protection.” The Vice comes in 7×15 and 7×16” sizes in gloss black against diamond polishing on a 4×100 stud pattern, with prices starting at £95 for the 15” version.
The final new design, the Xcalibre offers another twist on the pseudo split rim genus that Alcar believes makes the Calibre name popular in the aftermarket and tuner segments. The Xcalibre has a satin back centre with allen bolt detailing and a highly polished lip to create a design that will look at home on all VAG, Tuner and Jap rides. The wheel is available in a wide range of staggered 18”, 19” and 20” fitments in both 8.5” and 9.5” widths; they are suitable for most 5 stud fitments and prices start at £149.95 for the 8.5×18”.
Alcar has also announced itself in the e-Commerce arena with a social networking presence; its Facebook page is currently promoting the Calibre range is encouraging end-users to “like” the page with the chance to win a £1,200 set of wheels and tyres when the group reaches 1,500 people. The fortunate recipient will be chosen completely at random from the page’s fans, and will then be free to choose any wheel and tyre combination from the extensive Calibre range, up to the prize fund value. In addition to this, Calibre is also giving away items from their superb merchandise collection including clothing, luggage and lifestyle items.
On launching the promotion, Greer said: “With the new page up and running, we wanted to give people another reason to interact with us. This is a huge prize that will go to someone, wherever in the world they may be! Next time you’re on Facebook, simply search for ‘Calibre Wheels UK’ and click ‘Like’!”