VENCE, France — With sales of crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) surging in North America, Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc. (SRNA) is evolving its Falken-brand tire lineup to serve customers in this segment more effectively.
The aim is to get a step ahead of the competition and offer tires targeted at a market segment that to date, according to Falken, is underserved by the tire industry.
"It's a new market segment. Everyone knows that CUVs are exploding," Rick Brennan, SRNA's vice president, strategic planning, said in an interview with Tire Business and during a presentation at the 2019 Falken Tires Dealer Invitational April 28-30 on the French Riviera.
Car owners are moving to the CUV-type platform, he explained, and car companies are following suit by curtailing passenger car production in favor of CUVs, SUVs and light trucks. But auto makers have yet to segment the CUV vehicle market as they have done with passenger cars, such as for high performance, off-road use, etc.
That has left an opening, he said, for Falken to introduce a tire targeted at the estimated 17% of CUV owners who drive mainly on paved roads but who are likely to go off-road at some point during their vehicle ownership and who want a more aggressive, rugged-looking tire.
Mr. Brennan and other Falken executives talked about the opportunities in the CUV segment and introduced three products and several tire size additions at a business meeting and during private conversations with the 36 key tire dealers and distributors attending the trip.
They also spoke about the company's recent growth in original equipment fitments in the U.S. and addressed supply issues and challenges the company is facing at its lone U.S. tire plant, in Tonawanda, N.Y., near Buffalo. Parent company Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. (SRI) acquired the former ammunitions plant, the oldest tire factory in the U.S., in 2016 when the joint venture between SRI and Goodyear ended after a decade.
The Tonawanda plant is "really important" to Sumitomo and Falken, Mr. Brennan said, "because we're adding OE, and we are growing in this marketplace. And right now, we have to order the tires three months in advance before we sell them. And not everyone is really good at looking down the road three months on what you need to have in stock to fill every need.
"So having that Buffalo plant here to make stuff, we can make it more when we need it, and we can supply the market with what it needs without having to have four or five months of inventory."