Boom chacka chacka, thump thump chacka...
Translation: You have just experienced a non-aural pseudo-facsimile of a ``tuner'' car pulled up alongside you at a stop light.
Annoyance factor: Depending on local ordinances and personal taste, the thumping bass and car-rocking volume can either be music to your ears, or ear-splittingly maddening.
As you deftly (not deafly) re-adjust your ear plugs and regain your composure, consider these factoids courtesy of Yokohama Tire Corp. According to data from tire manufacturers concerning the growth of the so-called street tuner or ``sport compact'' vehicle market:
* In 1997, that segment's total sales comprised 200,000 tires.
* By 2001 that number had grown to 942,000 units.
* Between January and April of this year the number of units sold had already topped 400,000 and, given that pace, is forecast to surpass 1 million by year end.
And, despite the boom-chacka-chacka volume, that's a growing volume that's music to Yokohama's ears.
``Street tuners want bigger, badder, better tires,'' trumpeted a press release from the company heralding the July 22 introduction of Parada Spec-2-the next-generation high-performance successor to Yokohama's original Parada. The old one was touted as the ``most radical-looking combination of blocks and grooves to hit the street.''
While hip tuners may have wanted to be the first on their blocks to groove with a set of those, Fullerton, Calif.-based Yokohama claims the new tire ``provides even greater performance'' through a more evenly reinforced tread compound that greatly improves acceleration, wet and dry grip and braking ability.
During a ride-and-drive in Sonoma through California wine country, the tire maker wined, dined and placed automotive and tire trade press journalists in the driver's seat to put the new Parada-and the just-debuted AVS ES100 ultra-high performance tire-through their paces. The event took place at the famous Sears Point Raceway, which in June was renamed Infineon Raceway to mark the acquisition of naming rights to the motorsports complex by Germany-based Infineon Technologies A.G., one of the world's Top 10 semiconductor manufacturers.
``Big and becoming bigger,'' practically by the day, is the message Jake Dacillo, a Yokohama performance marketing specialist, delivered to journalists concerning the street tuner market and how the company is addressing it. ``It's all about a lifestyle-making bold statements with their vehicles,'' he said. The garden variety of tuner tires is now in the 16- to 19-inch range with aspect ratios from 45 to 35.
``We know our customers, what they want and we have the technology to deliver the products to them,'' Mr. Dacillo continued as the sound of screeching tires drifted in from a nearby slalom course set up for tire testing/torture. Back to that lifestyle statement thing for a moment. Tuners-glorified in last summer's surprising hit movie ``The Fast and the Furious''-are attempting to do at least three things with their tricked-up vehicles:
* Make 'em fast or, if not fast, at least make them look fast.
* Personalize their ride of choice to reflect their personality.
* Give their vehicles a unique look-special paint job, add a big tire-wheel combo and other accessories-that grabs attention.
The new Spec-2, Mr. Dacillo claimed, is ``the most unique tuner tire on the market today,'' includes the most tuner-specific applications and is a performance tire proven worthy of the streets through the company's deep roots on the race track.
According to Yokohama, plus sizing is paramount for street tuners as a way to enhance the looks of their cars. To support these low aspect ratio tires and the weight of the car, the company said key sizes of the Parada Spec-2 feature a reinforced sidewall construction that allows for more load carrying capability and enhances steering response.
The original Parada could take 44 psi but the new version is rated at 50 psi, adding about 700 pounds of load capacity. That's because, Mr. Dacillo explained, the small-sized vehicles-for instance Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf-that are the favorites of tuners often carry a maximum number of passengers who could be on their way to a movie, the local hangout, or just cruisin' the streets showing off the vehicle. Add to that some weighty stereo equipment that makes them akin to a boombox on wheels, and you've got a pretty heavy mode of transportation.
The Spec-2 features Z, W and Y speed ratings and offers massive diagonal tread blocks to maximize grip, Yokohama said, while increasing shoulder block stability. This counteracts the ``twitchy'' feeling that comes with the application of larger, low-profile tires on the compact sedans prominent in the street tuner market, it added. The tire also incorporates a rim protector bar that helps protect expensive wheel packages from potholes and curbs, the company said, and enhances appearance.
Available in 16-, 17-, 18- and 19-inch sizes in 35, 40 and 45 series aspect ratios, the tire includes three sizes new to the Parada line: 205/40ZR16, 215/35ZR19 and 225/35ZR19. It carries a UTQG of 300, a traction rating of AA and a temperature rating of A. Mr. Dacillo said the Spec-2, considered an entry-level tire, offers a number of performance capabilities ``but at a reasonable price.''
Like the new AVS ES100, the Spec-2 is being manufactured in Japan, as are the majority of the company's ultra-high performance products, he said.
The Spec-2 already has been rolled into tire stores to replace the original Parada. Mr. Dacillo said it has ``so much more grip'' than the previous model that ``we've told dealers not to mount a new Parada and an old one on the same axle because the driver could experience pulling problems.''
With the latest introduction, Yokohama-continuing to ride herd on its ``Whup Ass'' marketing campaign-is looking for some brand loyalty in the tuner market where, he acknowledged, Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp., another California-based manufacturer, has made a big name for itself as a brand of choice.
And although Yokohama offers dealer training for its products, especially its high performance tires, Mr. Dacillo told Tire Business the company does not have specific tutoring on how to tap into the lucrative street tuner market.
In conjunction with the Spec-2 launch, Yokohama sponsored a ``Bigger, Badder, Better'' national sweepstakes aimed at boosting tire outlets' sales and increasing store traffic. The contest, which ran from May 1 through July 31, offered incentives for dealership store managers and staff. Consumers were eligible for a grand prize of a 2002 Honda Civic DX along with an ``extreme accessory package'' that included Spec-2s, custom wheels, a body kit and special Eibach suspension package and an engine upgrade. Winners will be announced Sept. 1.
Meanwhile, as the rubber dust from the Spec-2 and the smell of scorched brake pads permeated a hot California afternoon on one portion of the Infineon Raceway, on another, intrepid drivers were taking turns jamming gears and killing orange cones while riding on the AVS ES100. The new tire-hitting the market after 18 months of testing by Yokohama in North America-incorporates many of the technologies of the company's top-of-the-line AVS Sport ultra-high performance tire, according to Bob Macias, a performance marketing specialist.
The ES100, he added, heralds a ``new wave.'' It replaces Yokohama's now-discontinued AVS Intermediate, which he called an ``icon'' designed in the ``old-school'' manner with a pencil and drafting board, rather than via computer. It enjoyed an almost 17-year run on the market.
Today's drivers look for a smooth, quiet ride in their performance tires, Mr. Macias said. ``And it has to last 40,000 miles and it has to be cheap.'' The ES100 ``does it all,'' he added, and is comparatively priced to the Intermediate.
Among its attributes, the ES100 offers long, continuous shoulder blocks to reduce tread squirm for crisp turning and handling, the firm said. A stepped-shoulder profile eliminates excess heat, reducing rolling resistance and increasing high-speed stability. Steel sidewall inserts ``complement the casing design providing greater control and responsive steering when cornering at high speeds.''
The ES100 is, according to Mr. Macias, the first tire in the U.S. to incorporate Yokohama's patented Silica Composite Carbon, which increases grip across a wide variety of driving conditions as it reduces rolling resistance. It has attained an AA traction rating, a UTQG of 280, and carries three speed ratings: H for 60 series aspect ratios; V for 50 series in 15-inch sizes; and W for 16-inch sizes and larger. It has no stated tread wear warranty.
The new tire is designed for applications such as the Camaro Z28, Corvette, Mustang, Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, VW, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Toyota and Mercedes.
Yokohama asserted that when run against comparable competition-in this case, the Bridgestone RE730-the AVS ES100 either equaled or, most times, prevailed in wet and dry braking, wet and dry handling, and in wet and dry slaloms.
To back up its claims of quality and value, the tire maker is offering a 30-day free trial for the ES100. Mr. Macias would not, however, suggest an average retail price for the tire, saying Yokohama's ``distributors and dealers control pricing.''
Now...about that name ``Parada.''
A quick consult by a Yokohama spokesman and a couple Japanese executives with the company came to the conclusion it is a ``made up name''-a version of the word ``paradise.'' It was concocted, they said, to conjure the image of a ``car-lover's paradise-for the enthusiast who enjoys the automotive lifestyle.''