For years, racing has provided Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. an arena to sport its colors and develop technology for high-performance tires.
So it was only natural for Yokohama to remember its racing history and make waves about the future while exhibiting at the Tokyo Auto Salon-Japan's premier tuner show-held Jan. 10-12 at the Nippon Convention Center in Tokyo. The show attracted 249,794 attendees, who came to see 770 sport compact cars-all modified to suit individual tastes and personalities.
At that venue, Yokohama marked the 25th anniversary of the launch of its Advan street tire in Japan by introducing its latest version of the line for sports cars-the Advan Neova AD07-and used two exhibit booths to tout the various generations of Advan over the years. The Tokyo tire maker also touted its reputation for motorsports, high-performance (HP) tires and technology with race and sports car displays.
Twenty-five years ago, Yokohama launched Advan to equip a company-owned race team in Japan and to distinguish HP tires from regular passenger tires, according to Hiroyuki Shioiri, Yokohama's assistant manager for international tire product planning, consumer tires and auto accessories.
He claimed Yokohama was the first manufacturer to use racing as a means to market and distinguish a tire brand from other brands.
``We were the pioneers of this concept of brand marketing,'' Mr. Shioiri said.
Mr. Shioiri said that in the late 1970s, the company was the first tire manufacturer to own a race team and use that team to sport its corporate colors. Today, Yokohama-knowing its reputation on the race track does impact street HP tire sales-is involved in almost every segment of racing around the world and sponsors only teams that have a winning track record, he added.
But Yokohama isn't just looking back. The company wants to help make racing even more popular by developing new technology, Mr. Shioiri said.
``From now on, an electric car racing system is important (to Yokohama), and we want to be involved in the electric racing field, even bringing it to Formula One,'' he told Tire Business recently during a tour of the huge Tokyo auto show.
Only Bridgestone Corp. and Group Michelin supply Formula One teams, and Mr. Shioiri acknowledged that though Yokohama is interested in the circuit, it doesn't have the budget to participate in it anytime soon. Instead, the tire maker's present focus is investing in electric racing and growing that category, he said.
An electric vehicle generally requires tires with lower rolling resistance than gasoline-powered vehicles, according to Kenichi Shirai, tire marketing manager and senior technical adviser. He said Yokohama is developing tires with lower rolling resistance for electric vehicles.
Yokohama began racing on electric vehicles in some series five years ago, Mr. Shirai said. At that time, a battery-powered motor could run only about one or two laps, but now an electric motor can run 10 laps at faster speeds, Mr. Shirai said. He noted that the Toyota Prius and other electric vehicles are built with the same high-performance, electric engines used on the racing circuit.
The Advan Neova AD07 will be available in 25 sizes ranging from 265/35R18 to 175/60R14 and incorporate ``MS compound,'' a composite material based on newly developed ``MicroSilica.''
Yokohama said the MS compound enables dynamic performance in a variety of conditions from high-temperature road surfaces in midsummer to cold, rainy road surfaces. The tread pattern features a round block pattern, which offers a balance between dry and wet grip by rounding the edge of each block, the tire maker said. Grooves on the sidewall of each block lessen the stress received by the block-thus enhancing durability by restraining uneven tire wear.
The company is still evaluating whether it will bring the new tire to North America, according to Art Michalik, director of marketing communications for Fullerton, Calif.-based Yokohama Tire Corp.