Hangzhou Zhongce managers tour Europe, finishing at the CV Show
Among Westlake’s personnel in attendance at the CV Show was Johnson Su from the Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. (ZC Rubber), manufacturer of Westlake tyres. Su, manager, import & export at ZC Rubber with a 30 year history at the manufacturer, is responsible for importing all raw tyre production materials in addition to export sales of the finished product.
Hangzhou Zhongce and Eskay Tyres (Westlake distributor for a number of European countries) used the week of the show to meet with a number of European distributors to discuss what they and their customers are looking for in terms of performance from their tyres. Su and his team of two salespeople and two engineers visited Van Aalderen in The Netherlands, Districash in France, Pirelli Driver in Spain and Dispnal in Portugal. Direct Tyre Management, which was recently appointed exclusive distributor for Westlake truck and bus tyres in the UK, occupied the neighbouring stand at the CV Show.
The three-cornered discussions, involving ZC Rubber, Eskay and dealers, covered a variety of subjects, from feedback on existing product performance to discussing what new products were needed for European roads. At the CV Show, Harjeev Kandhari, executive director of the Al Dobowi group, explained that this is the way that the partnership has operated for the past 19 years.
Al Dobowi has been selling ZC Rubber-made truck tyres in various markets and the manufacturer appreciates that different markets have different requirements and is keen to receive as much feedback as possible, in order to improve and develop its products. Kandhari described the relationship with both factory and customers as “a real partnership” in which all three sides work together to add value for their mutual advantage.
Su agreed, pointing out that the best way to find out the requirements of individual markets is to ask those who sell the tyres and the end users – this helps to produce a range for each particular region. Su also shared his experience of the considerable variance of patterns used by European operators, including axle- and application-specific treads and construction. In South East Asia, these sophisticated patterns are less important, and operators mostly require a more robust tyre to cope with the rougher conditions. Legislative requirements in Europe – the two most obvious being REACH and tyre labelling – also provide a major point of difference for Chinese manufacturers to tackle.
A marketing opportunity
Su suggests that rather than being an annoyance, the already REACH-compliant and labelling-ready Westlake tyres could find a marketing opportunity in this European legislation. While producing an A-A tyre (A-rated for both rolling resistance and wet grip) would involve enormous research and development investment, meaning that a large, and some would say unlikely, increase in sales would be needed justify the expense, Su says the other important criterion – value for money – could mean Westlake tyres will have an advantage.
Su suggests that a tyre that performs adequately and is attractively priced could well appeal to operators, and this is where Westlake tyres could have an advantage, particularly as their service life can be further extended by regrooving and retreading, helping to reduce PPK costs.
Westlake market share
Eskay’s representatives maintain that the company’s ambition is to make a real impact in the various European markets they serve with Westlake, ultimately making the name as familiar as older household names. Hangzhou Zhongce, with its status as the world’s 10th largest tyre manufacturer, also shares these goals.
ZC Rubber employs 25,000 people in nine factories, producing around 11 million TBR tyres a year, of which two million are exported. Domestically, Su said, ZC Rubber is the largest manufacturer of TBR tyres by some distance and holds an industry-leading 14 per cent share of the market, with its Chao Yang brand. ZC Rubber claims to be the fourth largest truck tyre manufacturer in the world.
The company has invested millions of euros in new manufacturing and quality control equipment – a fact witnessed by Tyrepress.com when visiting the ZC Rubber factories in late 2011 – investment both symptomatic of the manufacturer’s recent growth and indicative of a desire to overcome Western perceptions of Far East-manufactured tyres. Su also explained that ZC Rubber has off-take production agreements with a number of internationally-renowned tyre manufacturers.
ZC Rubber, aided by the Westlake brand, has continued to consolidate its presence in European markets. Its partnership with European distributors has been key to this establishment, with feedback from Westlake dealers and end users relayed to the factory and the “over 100 engineers” in the company’s R&D department, where work begins on designing a tyre to suit the requirements.
Su said that “more of the same” can be expected, with an expansion programme underway; a new factory has been opened in Thailand, and the company has bought a plot of land in Jiangsu Province, China in order to build a brand-new tyre factory. Su said the purchase will double the existing ZC Rubber factory land area and increase production figures by many millions of tyres. While the domestic market will account for some of the additional volume, ZC Rubber says it plans to double its export sales within a decade, if not sooner.
In Europe, the Westlake brand will be at the spearhead of this effort and to achieve this ambitious target will mean an even closer relationship between factory and distributor, the company believes.