SAN FRANCISCO—Deciding on the right name for a new tire sometimes can be almost as difficult as actually designing the thing. It took executives from Falken Tire Corp. and its parent company, Osaka, Japan's Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co., months of thumbs-up, thumbs-down parrying before they agreed that Falken's new line of high-performance, broad-market all-season passenger tires would be dubbed ``Ziex.''
Pronounced ``zekes,'' the name is derived from the German word zieren, meaning ``to be coveted,'' and ex, from the word ``excellent.''
The good news, if you're an independent tire dealer, is you won't find this product on every street corner, like some of the higher priced, more well-known competitors' HP lines, said Frank R. Dorso, Falken's president and COO.
Because they're not everywhere, lack of name recognition may mean, before clinching the sale, a dealer's got to dance a little longer with a customer who's interested in the tire.
But company officials believe that situation inevitably could lead to more sales—and higher profits—for dealers wanting a competitively priced, in-between replacement brand positioned to compete with the Kelly-Springfields and Coopers in the market.
So Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Falken has resolutely begun reinforcing awareness of its name—and product quality—with
consumers, dealers, and the media.
For example: On the weekend preceding the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) extravaganza, held Nov. 5-8 in Las Vegas, Falken previewed the Ziex line during its first-ever ``ride-and-drive'' for members of the tire and automotive trade press.
Journalists got to compare the new tires against Falken's year-old, expanded GRÃ¡ high performance ``summer'' tire line, though they were at times hampered by several sets of poorly fitted custom aftermarket wheels that caused the 1996 Ford Mustangs to shimmy at speeds from 30 to 65 mph.
Driving first on the winding roads of Northern California's lush Napa Valley ``wine country,'' they finished with a day of high-speed driving at Sears Point Raceway.
Falken then unveiled the Ziex line at the Specialty Equipment Market Association/Auto International Association (SEMA/AI) show during the AAIW event.
The Ziex is designed to be an affordable performance tire, Mr. Dorso said. Target fitments include mid-priced performance vehicles such as Mustangs, Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds.
The tires feature what Falken called a unique transverse groove pattern for superior all-season performance, dual tread compound for better response and traction, and innovative noise treatment for quieter driving.
It is M+S rated, has a UTQG rating of 300 AA and a 30,000-mile limited treadwear warranty—``which is almost unheard of for an HP tire,'' said Paul Dickinson, who handles marketing and has designed a training program for Falken's sales staff and dealers.
The company developed the Ziex using Ohtsu's exclusive A.P.P.L.E. design theory—short for Advanced Pioneering Performance by Leading Engineering—resulting in improved performance, fuel economy and passenger comfort, with reduced environmental pollution. That ``puts us up there with the major brands,'' Mr. Dickinson said.
Falken implemented a change in the way it designs tires, he added, to reduce stress in the shoulder and bead areas—something that, ``for marketing purposes, is easy for a consumer to understand.'' The Ziex also features a new bead design to provide uniform fitment around the rim, eliminating air pockets that can result in a condition of imbalance.
Ohtsu, in fact, is so pleased with the way Falken has grown and developed, Mr. Dickinson said, that eventually all Ohtsu's tires will bear the Falken name—Ohtsu's flagship brand since 1981.
Ziex radials currently are available in 11 H- and V-speed-rated sizes, with 50- and 55-series aspect ratios for 15- and 16-inch rims. Falken plans to introduce five additional 40- and 50-series sizes in the spring, including three with Z speed ratings.
Mr. Dorso said Sears, Roebuck and Co. will carry the Ziex in all its Sears stores, as well as its NTW and Tire America subsidiaries.
``While we'll focus more on consumers, with more emphasis on the Falken name and quality of our products,'' Mr. Dorso said the company still plans to concentrate its efforts on serving independent tire dealers and large retailers.
With the entire Sears operation on board, Falken will be available in more than 2,600 outlets in the U.S.—including more than 200 independent dealerships.
``Dealers love the profitability of our products, and are asking us to concentrate on making the name stronger to consumers,'' he added.
The company is offering dealers a national signage and point-of-sale program, as well as training and support that Mr. Dickinson said is state-of-the-art and interactive. It is available on video or computer, and eventually will be available on the Internet.
Historically strong in the Southwest and on its home turf of California, Mr. Dorso said Falken is making headway in the Northeast but still must build up pockets in the Midwest and south central U.S.
The high-performance tire market is no longer a niche, he believes. But some dealers may be reluctant to capitalize on its growth due to lack of product knowledge. Falken is committed to getting them into that ``comfort zone,'' he said, as the company eyes fulfilling its vision ``to be seen as an ultra-high-performance tire company, but with products available on all levels,'' from entry price points upward.
Mr. Dorso said that, by 1999, Falken aims to grow its current 3 percent of the HP replacement market in the U.S. to 4.5 percent—about 20 million units.