DALLAS-Japan's Yokohama Rubber Co., marking its 25th year selling replacement tires to U.S. consumers, wants a bigger slice of the American pie and is broadening its product lines and marketing horizons to obtain it. No longer content to specialize in high performance passenger and commercial truck tires, where it has enjoyed most of its success in this market to date, Yokohama hopes to build on its reputation in these two sales areas to attract a wider range of U.S. buyers.
So said officials of Fullerton, Calif.-based Yokohama Tire Corp., the company's U.S. subsidiary, at an April 17 meeting in Dallas that was attended by about 50 dealers.
Attendees were told the company is at ``an exciting threshold'' in its evolution from niche marketer to ``full-line'' tire supplier.
``The new Yokohama,'' said Vice President of Replacement Sales James MacMaster, has gone from being ``a major player in high performance (passenger tires) to a major player period.''
The company ``is about to take the market by storm with new products, new vision and a new willingness to capture more of the market and bring new customers through the door of your stores,'' he promised his dealer audience.
Yokohama Tire Corp. President and CEO Eika Yamagata said the company's Japanese parent corporation considers the U.S. market essential to meeting its global objective of garnering 5 percent of the worldwide tire market by the end of this decade.
In North America, Yokohama hopes to capture a combined 5 percent of the U.S. replacement passenger market between its two house brands and 7 percent of the replacement truck tire market by 1997.
Both goals are ``well within reach,'' according to Ken Suzuki, the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing.
He said that while Yokohama has made a name for itself among American buyers of high-performance and ultra-high-performance tires, in the future the company also will seek to attract a ``more traditional'' U.S. tire buyer.
``This is the market segment that offers the growth we need to realize our goal,'' Mr. Suzuki said.
Over the past quarter century, Yokohama Tire Corp. has grown into a company with annual U.S. sales of more than $400 million and over 200 points of sale nationwide, officials said.
Meanwhile, it has traded its initial role of tire importer for that of tire manufacturer-this by virtue of Yokohama's 1989 purchase of the former Mohawk Rubber Co., followed by its 1991 participation with General Tire and Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. in opening a new radial truck tire plant in Mt. Vernon, Ill.
The former Mohawk plant in Salem, Va., now produces both Yokohama and Mohawk brand passenger and light truck radials.
Meanwhile, the joint-venture tire plant in Mt. Vernon, known as GTY Tire Co., produces radials bearing the brands of all three participating tire makers.
Today, according to Yokohama officials, 70 percent of the passenger tires and 65 percent of its truck tires sold in the U.S. also are made here.
The Aegis LS4, introduced last fall and backed up by a roadside assistance program for motorists, was the company's first Yokohama brand tire developed for and produced in the U.S., company officials said.
It complements the Yokohama AS301, an S-rated, all-season radial that represents the entry-level product in the firm's ``good, better, best'' lineup.
One market segment in which the company has no intention of departing from its present successful formula is that of highway and off-the-road truck tires, according to William J. Forsch, manager of commercial products.
Yokohama is not like many of its competitors, who ``fall all over themselves'' attempting to follow the latest industry design trend in commercial truck tires, he said. ``One year, the trend is to longer life. The next year it's enhanced retreadability-and the rest of the industry struggles to keep up.
``Yokohama leads the market,'' Mr. Forsch said, ``not with knee jerk reactions to the latest fad, but with steady, persistent innovation. ``Our basic approach is...to do everything right. We don't buy into the idea that you have to sacrifice one area of excellence to produce another.''
During the meeting, Yokohama debuted three new products:
A high performance, all-season passenger radial, the Yokohama AVID MD-H4, which the company said is ``raising the bar'' in the industrywide competition to deliver the best all-weather high performance tire; plus
Two new super-premium heavy-truck tires-the RY513 steer-axle radial and the TY503 drive-axle radial.
Both new truck tires will carry the company's most complete warranty to date-five years plus unlimited retreads, officials said. Both tires reportedly deliver longer original treadlife, enhanced casing durability and fuel economy-a combination of benefits said to be previously unattainable in any one tire. Both truck tires will be available to dealers in December.
The AVID-which stands for Advanced Vehicle Integrated Design-MD-H4 passenger radial is said to combine the high-speed stability performance enthusiasts want with the all-season traction desired by traditional consumers.
To provide increased traction while cornering, the AVID MD-H4's tread features three channels said to disperse water more efficiently than traditional uni-directional patterns. It carries a UTQG treadwear rating of 300 and a traction rating of A.
Initially, the AVID MD-H4 will be available in 11 sizes in 60- and 65-series profiles. It eventually will be offered in a total of 18 sizes including 70-series profiles.