Motorsport involvement “a vital part of Falken road car tyre development”
The Falken Tyres brand is owned by Sumitomo Rubber Industries, the sixth largest manufacturer in the global tyre ranking with manufacturing facilities across Asia including plants in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and China. It was created in 1983 and was first sold in the US and Europe some years later. While the brand has an active motorsport presence in events such as the prestigious 24 Hours at the Nürburgring, it argues that its knowledge acquired in that arena is transferred immediately to its road tyre R&D team in Japan. Tyres & Accessories interviewed Satoru Ushida, marketing director at Falken Tyre Europe.
It seems most passenger car tyres claim “high performance”, even if we are not talking about the largest sizes on the market. What are Falken’s thoughts on high performance for smaller sizes?
The concept of “high performance” is mostly associated with premium or sports cars. But that is not what Falken stands for. We want to be known for good quality tyres in every size. We aim to be honest with our customers. We claim high performance through our acquired knowledge – even for smaller sizes.
Now budget brands talk about their “high performance” tyre ranges, what does that do to branding in the mid-range to premium segments?
Falken has to stay true to its values. We want to offer exceptional value performance tyres. We will focus on these conveying these messages through the marketing activity, notably motorsport but also reaching out to newer segments; those who are more family oriented and purchase tyres as simply a commodity. We also believe the German tyre tests are crucial and will be aiming for good results in the next series. For the German market, these tests are an important tool for consumers when selecting tyres and cannot be ignored.
What sizes do Falken cover?
For our flagship high performance FK452 range we offer a key range of sizes at 16” with a greater offering at the 18” and 19” diameter. We do also offer up to 22” in Europe. With a number of OEMs offering 20” wheels as standard fit, there is a market for larger, upgraded wheels and of course, tyres.
How does Falken plan to evolve its range in line with developments in the passenger car market?
We have seen growth in both weight and performance of even the most mundane family car. 200PS is no longer unusual in a family car and of course, there are much higher levels of torque produced with diesel power trains than witnessed even five years ago. Therefore, we have looked at improved durability and higher sidewall loading through different construction and materials to satisfy these requirements. As cars become quieter, even performance cars, we also need to ensure that road noise is not too intrusive.
What technical features it believes are particularly important?
We have noted that performance drivers are keen to enjoy not only a “sporty feel” but are increasingly interested in safety in poor weather conditions. We have looked at the parameters of our tyres such as the FK452 to provide an optimum blend of driver involvement yet keep wet performance levels. Our directional tyre design reflects our thinking and not only leads to better wet weather performance but also minimises; a common complaint for drivers of cars equipped with low profile tyres in the UK.
Another interesting feature that is appreciated in this sector is the tread pattern itself. Performance drivers prefer a more aggressive pattern and again we have to use our construction experience to ensure we can offer a modern tyre pattern without compromising on noise or wet weather performance. It’s the ability to combine these features in a performance that help a tyre to perform well.
What strategies is the brand is using to distinguish itself in the crowded Western European marketplace?
Increasing brand awareness and recognition is very important for us as we grow in Europe. We have even more synergy this year across marketing, PR and advertising. This should make messaging clearer for both our dealers and end users. This year we are using our participation in the Nürburgring 24 Hour race as a hub for other product and brand promotion. We have invited our tyre distributors and dealers coming to the race weekend to not only get to get to see how the tyres perform on track but also to learn about our expanding performance tyre range and our plans to promote this in the coming 12 months.
Falken has also embraced the social media. It’s very important for the younger car enthusiasts as a place to discuss their cars and tyres with like-minded friends all over the world. Falken is very active on Facebook and we have our own YouTube channel to show our tyres in action.
What sections of the market are particularly important to Falken?
Our main targets are passenger cars tyres in their entirety. In the past years we see the passenger car registration of sport cars constantly growing as same as of upper medium class cars. Additionally, we want to offer more products for SUVs and CUVs, too.
What are its plans for its future in the high performance segment? Which brands does it see itself competing with?
We see Falken becoming increasingly well known for good quality products that are not only appreciated by enthusiasts but by car owners looking for a trusted brand. We are increasing our resources in Europe to support the delivery of this campaign. We have aggressive targets to have levels of market acceptance close to that of the most renowned brands. With the products we have, a new European sales team, backed up by support from our parent company Sumitomo Rubber, we have the infrastructure and resource now in place to successfully deliver this.
Finally, how do Falken’s sporting activities inform the high performance range?
It’s very easy for a tyre manufacturer to say they use their race activity to develop their road tyres whereas the racing tyre side is a commercial arm of the business. Falken actually doesn’t sell its race tyres but genuinely uses this platform for learning, R&D and experience. Our involvement with racing is therefore a vital part of our road car tyre development.
The information we have acquired from the testing at the Nürburgring earlier in 2011, together with the feedback from the experienced drivers we have been using for compound and construction evaluation, is fed directly back into our R&D team in Japan. This knowledge transfer model is one we have successfully applied in our off-road competitions and with our FK452 road tyre. Drifters like using this tyre because it can be relied upon for good endurance and grip, attributes developed for its original road car use.