Falken Tire Corp. is changing its focus and repositioning the Falken brand to go after a new market segment-premium vehicle fitments.
At the upcoming Specialty Equipment Market Association show, Nov. 2-5 in Las Vegas, Falken will unveil its Azenis RT 615 line for the European touring segment-specifically Audi, Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW vehicle owners, according to Richard Smallwood, vice president of sales, marketing and logistics. He called the Azenis RT 615 a ``maximum performance'' tire, meaning an ultra-high performance tire with maximum dry grip.
Accompanying the launch of the Azenis RT 615, which will be available to dealers in March, is an ad campaign that Falken hopes will change its image and feel among consumers who buy European touring vehicles.
``We still want to maintain our strong position on the import scene,'' Mr. Smallwood told Tire Business. ``Now we want to branch out after the European touring segment and more of the premium fitments. You need a different feel of the brand, a different kind of ad campaign, to go after that category.''
Rancho Cucamonga-based Falken, a subsidiary of Japan's Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd., wants to market its brand to European vehicle owners who want the ``balance of performance,'' meaning those who would like performance tires yet still maintain the look of luxury, he explained.
``In the past, most of the owners of those vehicles would not consider Falken in that category because it's not the name that first comes to mind,'' he said. ``The name that first comes to mind is Michelin or Dunlop. We want to position our brand to be top of mind with them.''
Calling the European segment a ``broad focus,'' Mr. Smallwood said even those vehicle owners are buying 19- and 20-inch tires for looks and performance reasons, and at some point those owners will buy even larger sizes. He said Falken will try to raise its brand awareness among European vehicle owners by advertising in a variety of magazines that would encompass a Mercedes owner's ``circle of influence.'' He said the company is considering advertising in Car and Driver, Road & Track, Roundel, Motor Trend and some other magazines but hasn't finalized any contracts.
Mr. Smallwood noted that Falken will not pull away its promotional efforts with the import tuner segment, but it will spread its advertising dollars more evenly between the import tuner and European touring segments. As a result, Falken will advertise in new magazines and create a TV ad campaign that likely will be broadcast during 2005's first quarter.
Mr. Smallwood said the TV campaign will focus on the Falken brand while the print campaign will emphasize the Azenis RT 615 line in addition to the brand.
He declined to elaborate on the campaigns, saying Falken is still working out the details on the placements.
``We're still sorting through all the pieces on that,'' he said. ``It's a lot bigger project than we had imagined. We're trying to narrow down markets that we want to go after and what time slots and TV shows that we think are popular.''
In 2004 Falken has been targeting the hot rod, urban lifestyle and sport-utility vehicle markets more heavily than the year before, and an example of those efforts was an ``aggressive ad campaign'' in magazines for Ford Mustang owners, Mr. Smallwood said, adding that Falken will continue its efforts in those markets.
``Traditionally in the hot rod segment you had a lot of 15- to 16-inch diameters with large tires on there,'' Mr. Smallwood said. ``Now you're seeing a much more refined tire and wheel application on those hot rods, where you'll see a lot more 18-, 19-, 20-, even 22-inch UHP tires on those hot rods now. That's a segment where we've done very well. A lot of it is because people in that market are looking for something new.''
Falken will continue to participate in car club events, car shows and drifting events to target both tuners and European vehicle owners, according to Mr. Smallwood.
Falken also recently announced it is discontinuing its marketing and distribution of Ohtsu medium truck tires beginning Jan. 1.
Westlake Village, Calif.-based Itochu International, which has marketed the Ohtsu truck tire line exclusively in the western U.S. since the 1970s, will become the exclusive distributor of Ohtsu medium truck tires throughout the remainder of the U.S. and Canada as well.
``We're going to focus 100 percent of our efforts on developing the Falken brand,'' Mr. Smallwood said of the Ohtsu announcement. ``This is the most consistent strategy for doing that.... You always want to focus on what you're strongest at.''
He said although Falken has done a good job marketing the Ohtsu brand, it makes more business sense to let Itochu market Ohtsu medium truck tires nationwide.
``It's very difficult for a company our size to focus on selling ultra-high performance then do some medium truck as well. Let's focus everything on what we're best at,'' Mr. Smallwood said.