LANCASTER, Calif.—Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. and its Japanese parent may not rank among the top three tire makers in size, but the company thinks its tires deserve to be viewed among the best. To illustrate that point, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. invited more than 90 tire trade press and automotive journalists and guests to Willow Springs Raceway in Lancaster May 24-27 to try out its newest ultra-high-performance tire—the Proxes TS-1.
Journalists tested the tire on three courses—a wet and dry skid pad, autocross and road circuit—and compared it with competitive versions made by Goodyear, Dunlop and Bridgestone.
``You might not walk out of here saying Toyo is the best doggone tire you drove on today,'' Bill Bainbridge, director of marketing, told journalists. ``But if you walk out of here feeling, `You know what, they've got something with that tire,'...then we're going to feel like we had a pretty doggone good day.''
The ride and drive, Toyo's first ever for journalists, symbolizes the company's efforts to enhance its image in the marketplace.
The Cypress, Calif.-based firm wants dealers and consumers to consider Toyo as an alternative to competing top-end lines.
``We want to make sure people look at the company and its products as positioned at the top of the heap as opposed to a second line,'' Mr. Bainbridge said. ``We want to be thought of in the same breath as Michelin, Bridgestone and Goodyear.''
Toyo began repositioning itself in the marketplace 12 to 18 months ago, he said.
Since then, the company has upgraded its point-of-purchase materials, enhanced its presence with the Specialty Equipment Market Association and the Tire Association of North America and created a training program for dealer employees.
``We're trying to build more confidence at the dealer level so that it's easier to sell and recommend our products,'' Mr. Bainbridge said.
Now it has introduced a top-end, ultra-high-performance tire that, Mr. Bainbridge said, ``is the best example of our technology overall.''
Toyo's engineers designed the Proxes TS-1 using a supercomputer and software that simulates tire behavior under a variety of conditions.
For the first time, they employed Generation S, Toyo's new silica-reinforced tread compound, improving wet traction without compromising dry performance and wear, Mr. Bainbridge said. And they gave the tire a unidirectional tread featuring diagonal ribs with wide channels to evacuate water and wide shoulder blocks for cornering grip.
The result is a radial that Mr. Bainbridge said shows improved wet handling and braking—``with perhaps a slight improvement in dry performance''—over Toyo's previous top-end line, the Proxes T1 Plus, which the company is phasing out.
Depending on the size, the Proxes TS-1 comes with a V-, Y-, W- or Z-speed rating and carries a UTQG rating of 280 AA A, up from 240 for the T1-Plus.
Toyo will offer the tire in 48 sizes with aspect ratios from 35 to 55 and rim diameters from 14 to 18 inches. The full line should be available by the end of June.
To sell its tires, Toyo relies solely on independent tire dealers, and only those ``who allow us to come in and work with them and their people to train them and make sure that they truly are prepared and geared up and understand this business,'' Mr. Bainbridge said.
``We're not convinced that the people at mass merchandisers that might have been selling lawnmowers last week really know and learn enough about product, especially high performance tires, to be able to sell them,'' he added. ``So we're kind of picky about who we allow to sell Toyo tires.''
To help dealers sell the Proxes T1-S, Toyo is offering a 45-day, 500-mile trial ride, he said. If a consumer is, for any reason, not satisfied with the tire, he can return it and get his money back.
``That's the reinforcement we give,'' he said, ``to give our dealer salespeople confidence and to give consumers confidence to maybe try a brand they might not be as familiar with as, let's say, a Bridgestone, a Firestone, a Michelin or Goodyear.''