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King of the road

Portrait

Kumho Tire celebrated the 50th anniversary of its foundation in 2010 and can now look back on over half a century of unbroken growth and success. It began exporting early in its history and in 1980 was awarded the Korean export trophy for achieving total exports worth over 100 million USD. If the 1980s can be described as a decade of growth, then the 1990s can be seen as the decade of technological development, which saw Kumho Tire join the ranks of the top ten tyre manufacturers in the world.

The new millenium has seen Kumho grow still further in terms of its market position and confidence. “Our profile has been growing steadily for some time now, and the brand name Kumho is much more prominent in customers’ minds,” says CEO Young-Nam Byun. This increased exposure comes in no small part from Kumho Tyres’ many sports sponsorship deals and promotional tie-ins.

Kumho Tire was nominated the official tyre supplier to the International Formula 3 Korean Super Prix in 2000 and was selected as the officical tyre supplier to the Formula 3 Euro series in 2003. “Kumho Tire has made huge progress in the 15 years it has been involved in motorsport, and we are now recognised as a major supplier of race and rallye tyres with perfomance levels to rival the longer established brands,” says Mr. Byun.

Kumho Tire Technical Centre in Korea is responsible for developing and testing the company’s highly regarded Formula 3 tyres, which are manufactured on a special production line at its high tech factory in Gwangju in Korea. Kumho Motorsport is responsible for the company’s motorsport activities in Europe. Besides its commitment to European Formula 3 racing, the specialist division also supports many circuit racing, rallye and rallycross series.

The company’s sponsorship deals are not just limited to motorsport, and in 2007 Kumho Tire entered into a sponsorship agreement with Manchester United Football Club, followed by a similar agreement with HSV Hamburg Football Club in 2011. In 2005 Kumho passed another export milestone, winning the one billion dollar export trophy.

Today, Kumho Tire produces nearly 65 million tyres each year at its factories in Korea, China and Vietnam for cars, 4x4s, vans and trucks. Thanks to its relentless international expansion over the years, it is now possible to buy Kumho Tyres in 180 countries around the world.

In Europe the focus is on tyres for passenger cars. Kumho Tire sold almost ten million tyres in Europe last year and is on target to exceed that figure this year. To ensure that its tyres meet the needs of the market,Kumho Tire has R&D centres on three continents, including one based in Germany in the Rhine-Main area to serve the European market.

Kumho’s research and development efforts also focus on other areas that are less vital to safety but are nevertheless intriguing in their possibilities. For example, in 2005 Kumho Tire presented its innovative smoke tyres, which give off coloured smoke during wheel spins.

In the same year, the company also launched aroma tyres that give off a pleasant fragrance instead of the typical rubber smell. One might be forgiven for thinking that tyre evolution has reached its full potential if this is the direction developmental work is taking, but Kumho is positive that there is still room for improvement in modern tyre design.

“European labeling regulations for characteristics such as rolling resistance, wet grip and noise are very strict, and there is a grading scale applied whereby the performance of the tyre is assessed against an ideal performance range,” says Mr. Byun. “Our new Ecowing ES 01 tyre scored an A in the first two categories and also features an eco-friendly tread pattern design. This new tyre better reflects the direction that tyre design is taking in the 21st century. Improving fuel efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions are the twin holy grails of today’s automotive industry.

Diminishing oil reserves and rising prices at the petrol pump are driving efforts to improve fuel economy, and tyre designhas an important role to play. Kumho Tire innovative tyre designs and impressive production capacity have won it long-term contracts with many leading automotive manufacturers. It is an original equipment supplier to Chevrolet, Chrysler, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, Smart, SsangYong and Volkswagen. Kumho Tire has supplied tyres for Volkswagen in Europe since 2002, where its tyres are used on the Volkswagen Polo. For Mercedes the company has supplied tyres for the A Class, among other tyres, since 2007.

As well as supplying tyres for the OEM market, Kumho’s tyres are also available in the aftermarket through wholesalers, tyre dealers and car dealers.

By adopting a mix of sales channels, Kumho Tire is able to raise brand awareness amongst customers. Kumho Tire adapts its products to suit the markets it serves as well as the vehicles to which they will be fitted.

In Europe seasonal differences also mean that there are markets for summer, winter and all-year tyres. “We manufacture an incredibly diverse range of tyres to accommodate the different requirements of our customers,” says Mr. Byun. “For some, it is the ecological aspect that comes foremost and for others the performance aspect. We ensure that we can offer a product that matches these varying requirements as closely as possible while conforming to the relevant safety regulations.”

Labelling in the European market is extremely important as consumers use this as a guide to the quality of the tyre and are generally prepared to pay more for a product that will last longer. This is an area where Kumho Tire is investing resources at the moment to ensure that its tyres achieve the coveted A grade in all categories. Kumho Tire also benefits from the association with the top car brands on whose cars its tyres are fitted as standard equipment.

When the time comes to fit new tyres to the vehicle, many people continue to fit the same brand that was originally used. Kumho means beautiful, calm lake, and this is certainly the impression that the company’s turnover result in 2011 conveys, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

“We have forecast a final result clearly better than last year’s in the European market,” says Mr. Byun. “This growth comes despite the uncertain economic situation and reflects the hard work of everyone involved in the company.”

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