Taiwan-based tire makers Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. and Hwa Fong Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. are jostling to improve their positions in the North American market, each mapping out what it maintains will be an effective method of increasing market share.
And while the methods are different, each is confident that the plan it has formulated will work.
Kenda, whose products run the gamut from tires for bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs to specialty and industrial tires as well as passenger and light truck tires, has relied heavily on acquisition as a means for expanding its presence in North America.
Among acquisitions completed by the firm in recent years are those of Martin Wheel Manufacturing Co. in Akron, a maker of slow speed tires for lawn mowers; Monitor Manufacturing Co. in Smyrna, Ga., a maker of slow speed wheels for lawn mowers and golf carts; and Americana Tire and Wheel Co. with locations in York, Pa., Bristol, Ind., and Blackshear, Ga., that provides high speed trailer tire and wheel assembly for trailer and RV manufacturers. In June, Kenda completed the purchase of the wheel making division of Dexter Axle, based in Elkhart, Ind., since renamed Dexstar Wheel.
According to Jimmy Yang, vice president of American Kenda Rubber, the latest acquisition will bring to Kenda high-speed automotive rim making capability that will enable the company to sell more of its trailer and light truck tires in the U.S. recreational vehicle (RV) market.
``Since adding the radial Karrier trailer tire to our K550 bias line two years ago, we have seen a steady increase in our presence in the North American trailer and RV market,'' Mr. Yang said. ``We expect the acquisition of Dexstar Wheel to bring appreciable additional business.
``Kenda has been aggressively expanding its radial automotive tire capacity since first entering that market two years ago, and daily production is expected to reach 20,000 units within the next 12 months,'' he added.
Mr. Yang said Kenda's sales got an unexpected boost last year when the relatively unknown golfer Ben Curtis, who was sponsored by Kenda, won the 2003 British Open. ``Following Curtis' win, recognition of the Kenda brand has increased dramatically,'' he said.
Mr. Yang said that with a global economic recovery well under way, Kenda expects to see increased sales in both automotive and specialty tires as well as in tires for bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs.
Hwa Fong Rubber also is working to carve out a larger share of the North American market. The tire maker, which does business in North America under the Duro Tire name, has had distribution in the U.S. since 1982.
The company manufactures and markets a wide range of industrial and specialty tires including those for golf carts, lawn and gardening equipment, ATVs and go-carts, forklifts and skid loaders, light trucks, trailers and mobile homes. In a move aimed at broadening its customer base, Duro Tire recently developed a radial tire for the specialty trailer market.
Marshall Lu, president and CEO of Hwa Fong USA, said Duro Tire's philosophy for increasing market presence is one of steadfast commitment to its core business of specialty and industrial products while stepping up efforts to gain a larger foothold in the market for radial tires. Unlike Kenda, which has used acquisitions to increase its presence in the North American specialty tire and wheel market, Duro Tire has no plans to use acquisitions as a vehicle for expansion, Mr. Lu said.
``That is not to say that the company would not consider making an acquisition if the opportunity presented itself,'' he said. ``But the game plan is definitely not one of actively pursuing acquisitions.''
He also cited several reasons, espoused by the management of Duro Tire's parent company for not engaging in acquisitions, including the fear that unless the entire staff of the company being acquired was retained, the work force staying on could suffer morale problems.
``In the view of any of the top managers,'' he said, ``one of the few values to be derived from expansion through acquisition would be a shorter time getting the larger operation up and running.''
One indication of the company's commitment to its core businesses was Duro Tire's decision, in 2003, to move its U.S. headquarters from Ohio to Covington, Ga., where it had set up a production plant two years earlier. The factory, which employs 60, turns out a range of wheels for golf carts, hand carts and lawn and garden equipment.
At the same time, the company announced its intention to ramp up its efforts in the market for radial tires. In addition to bolstering its position as a supplier of radial tires for the specialty trailer market, it would like to become an established player in other sectors as well, including the market for radial tires for passenger vehicles.
Spurring Duro Tire's ambitions for a greater presence in the market for radial tires are statistics indicating that in recent years sales of radial tires have been increasing at a rate nearly twice that of industrial and specialty tires.
According to Mr. Lu, the greatest challenge facing Duro Tire's bid to expand its markets could be a shortage of raw materials.
``Not only Duro Tire but all tire makers are going to encounter growing material shortages and higher prices for those materials that are available,'' he said. ``This will prove to be especially true of good quality natural rubber which, I fear, will be in ever shorter supply. In order to compete effectively, the company will have to be ever more conscious of making the most efficient use of available materials while, at the same time, developing and bringing to market more high value-added products.''
Globally, Kenda and Hwa Fong rank among the world's 50 largest tire companies, with annual sales of about $230 million and $150 million, respectively.
Kenda is stepping up on the world stage, though, agreeing last year to set up a joint venture with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. to build a radial passenger and light truck tire plant in China. The plant in Jiangsu Province should open by late 2005, Cooper said.