In only its second ride-and-drive event ever for the North American automotive and tire trade press, Kumho Tire USA Inc. recently showed off some of its newest products, including the Ecsta SPT ultra-high performance tire.
Attended by 25 tire and automotive trade journalists, the June 1-2 ride and drive at the BeaveRun Motorsports Complex in Wampum, near Pittsburgh, provided Kumho an opportunity to educate the media about itself and to create some buzz for the SPT, a spokesman said.
``Many of the guys might not have heard of us and not know us,'' the spokesman said.
Kumho Tire Co. Ltd. is the 11th largest tire maker in the world with annual sales of $1.36 billion in 2003, said David Hudrlik, senior vice president of sales for Kumho Tire USA. Over the next five or six years, the South Korean company looks to move up to what it calls the second tier tire makers, those just below Group Michelin, Bridgestone Corp. and Goodyear, in sales.
To help accomplish this, Kumho is expanding capacity in 2005 at plants in South Korea and China, raising overall production capacity by 17 percent to 47 million tires annually.
Additional capacity will come on stream in early 2007 at a plant in Tianjin, China, where Kumho has just broken ground. (See related story, page 21.) The availability of additional tires will fuel Kumho's growth in the U.S., particularly in light truck tires where growth was constrained due to a shortage of product, Mr. Hudrlik said. With more tires to offer customers, Kumho aims to boost revenues in the U.S. by 28 percent to $450 million this year.
The tire maker also seeks to be ahead of the curve in terms of technology innovation, Mr. Hudrlik said.
``Kumho doesn't want to be a fast follower any more,'' he said. ``We now want to come out first. We want to be the leaders.''
While Kumho executives outlined the company's growth plans, a key part of the ride and drive was to promote the SPT, the replacement to the popular Ecsta 712. ``The 712 really put Kumho on the performance map when we introduced it four years ago,'' said Rick Brennan, director of brand management. ``The Ecsta SPT picks up where the 712 leaves off, offering even better levels of performance.''
Fontana, Calif.-based Kumho has called the launch of the SPT one of the most significant in company history.
``The tire replaces a legend as far as Kumho is concerned,'' Mr. Brennan added. He described it as a value ultra-high performance tire.
Journalists tested the SPT, fitted on BMW Z4s and Porsche Boxsters, on a wet and dry autocross course. The tires were then removed and the vehicles mounted with competitive products-the Michelin Pilot Sport II and Dunlop Sport Maxx-so drivers could evaluate all the tires on the same car.
Kumho announced the Ecsta SPT last November at the Specialty Market Equipment Association show in Las Vegas.
The SPT offers a comfortable ride and low noise as well as good handling and wet grip, the company said. It is constructed with high tensile steel belts and a jointless, full nylon cap to reduce noise and to deliver comfort and durability. Depending on the size, the SPT carries an H, V, W or Y speed rating.
Kumho introduced the initial 34 SPT sizes in March. The remaining 20 sizes are scheduled to come on stream in June, July and August providing a product range of 195/45R15 to 295/40R20. In addition, the company has plans to introduce a 22-inch version.
Also at the ride and drive, Kumho addressed the issue of plus-sizing and attempted to debunk what it said is the myth that large plus-sizing has a negative impact on vehicle handling.
Using the Ford Expedition as its target vehicle, Kumho demonstrated the handling differences between the original equipment wheel and tire-size 265/70R17-and a tire and wheel package that has been plus-sized by seven. That is, going up 7 inches in rim diameter and to a tire size of 305/35R24 with a much smaller aspect ratio.
``The assumption is that the ride is going to be degraded, but the reality is the ride is going to change,'' said Bob Strange, a tire and vehicle dynamics engineer working with Kumho. ``Whether it's good or bad depends on the individual's personal preference.''
The OE tires with a higher aspect ratio tend to be softer and feel more ``floaty,'' Mr. Strange said. With lower aspect ratio tires, the impact harshness will be greater.
Typically as the aspect ratio of the tire is lowered, dry braking tends to be better because the tire is wider and the shape of the footprint is different, he said.
Unsprung weight-the mass of any component on the vehicle that is not being controlled by the springs-is another issue that comes into play when plus-sizing a vehicle.
However, the additional weight added as a result of fitting larger and heavier aftermarket wheels is mitigated in large part by the size of the vehicle, according to Guy Edington, managing director of the Kumho Technical Center in Akron.
On a 6,000-pound sport-utility vehicle, the impact of unsprung weight is minimal, although brake life could be shortened. On lighter vehicles, unsprung weight would have more of an impact because it becomes more of a percentage of the vehicle mass, Mr. Edington said.
Also at the event, Kumho announced size additions to several tire lines.
The tire maker is introducing seven sizes in 18- to 20-inch diameters to the Road Venture AT KL-41, all-terrain light truck tire. The new sizes include 325/65R18, 355/65R18, 325/60R18, 325/60R20, 355/60R20 355/50R20 and 325/50R22. With these additions, the Road Venture AT now comes in 23 sizes.
This summer, Kumho will introduce a 28-inch version-size 325/35R28-of its Ecsta STX light truck tire. The tire has been engineered to provide the load-carrying capacity needed for use on the Hummer H2, the company said.
In April, Kumho added 12 sizes, ranging from 195/65R15 to 235/50R18, to its Ecsta ASX ultra-high-performance tire. The additions give the ASX a total of 49 sizes.
Also in April, the tire maker added five sizes to the DOT-approved Ecsta V710, for 17 sizes. The new sizes are 215/40R16, 225/50R16, 245/45R16, 245/35R18 and 285/30R18.