The Winter I'Cept is a studless tire that will be offered in 37 sizes from 13- to 18-inch rim diameters and 40-70 series aspect ratios. The company's testing shows a 5-percent improvement in snow traction. The tire will be available for ordering starting in March for the next winter season, Mr, Denlein said.
To aid in the development of winter tires, Hankook is developing a winter testing center in Ivalo, Finland, that is tentatively scheduled to open at this time next year.
“What we are doing is we are trying to put a tremendous amount of effort in terms of money and dollars and also a tremendous amount of effort in terms of manpower to create what we consider to be world-class products,” Mr. Denlein said.
That effort extends to research and development where Hankook will open its TechnoDome technical center later this year near Daejeon, South Korea. “This will be the leading technical center, we believe, in the industry,” Mr. Denlein said.
The futuristic Technodome will house more than 100 laboratories and employ 300 plus R&D professionals. “This will be our epicenter in terms of our R&D,” Mr. Denlein said. It's where the company will design and push forward to develop top-tier products, he added.
OE fitments also play into Hankook's strategy to become a top tier brand. The company has been concentrating on securing premium OE fitments, including with BMW A.G., Mercedes Benz A.G., Audi, Volkswagen A.G. and Ford Motor Co.
But Hankook also wants to gain fitments with the Japanese car makers, which is important, Mr. Denlein said, because of their strong reputation among consumers for the quality of their vehicles.
In marketing the Hankook brand, the company is focusing on “share of voice,” which Mr. Denlein explained is the company's overall media coverage in the U.S. compared with the competition.
Hankook's share of voice increased to 6.72 percent in 2015, up from 1.8 percent in 2010.
“This helps ultimately, at the end of the day, to increase sales, which is what you are here for,” Mr. Denlein told dealers.
To gain a higher share of voice and build brand awareness and perception, Hankook employs a variety of approaches including digital marketing, public relations, sports marketing, retailer support, experiential marketing and media.
“The thing that is most important is that the message has to be clear and it has to be consistent,” Mr. Denlein said.
In 2016, Hankook will launch a website that Mr.Denlein said will be more user friendly, have timely content and a dealer locater, among other updates.
The company also will continue to use social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to promote the company and brand. These mediums are everywhere, Mr. Denlein said, and “we feel Facebook and Twitter is a way of the future even in the tire business.”
Mr. Denlein said Hankook will allocate more money to Facebook in 2016 because “we believe that Facebook is used to research brands now…. Twitter is more news oriented.”
Also in 2016, Hankook will support its Great Catch and Great Hit rebate program through the company's dedicated social media.
Hankook's marketing efforts include its sponsorship of 26 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, which in 2015 included signage on four outfield walls. “The return on this investment is priceless,” Mr. Denlein said, noting the company received 4.8 billion online impressions and a media value of over $104 million.
Also on tap is a second television commercial designed for the U.S. market. The company expects to begin working on the commercial starting in April.
Hankook also is increasing its support of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a veteran's assistance and advocacy group. The company will activate four mobile service office vehicle stops in 2016 from two stops in 2015, and support two MLB military appreciation games.
In addition, Hankook will sponsor the 2016 DAV San Diego 5K run and the DAV National Career Fair.
Hankook will continue to grow this corporate relationship sponsorship, Mr. Denlein said. “This just fits for us as a company.”
The Hankook executives did not address the firm's complementary Laufenn value brand during the business meeting with dealers, but in the interview with Tire Business Mr. Denlein said the company “has been really, really happy with the growth. All segments are growing, UHP, PCR, LTR.”
The company has implemented a retail strategy for Laufenn and has in each region a good amount of retailers with the product. Consumer feedback has been great, he added, and the dealers are happy with product.
Asked about the United Steelworkers petition with the International Trade Commission on placing tariffs or duties on medium truck and bus tires from China, Mr. Ahn said the news of this action came unexpectedly.
“So we have to prepare for that, what strategy we have to apply,” he said. “But basically I think we have the capacity to replace the Chinese-originated resources into Korea plant. In the meantime, we can say we can be ready.”