Outside of the medium truck tire realm, the Sumitomo brand and independent tire dealers have not enjoyed a close relationship. Often associated with Sears Auto Centers (not any longer), judging by the results in the most recent Tire Review Tire Brands Study, dealers don’t see a lot in Sumitomo consumer tires; they rated near the bottom in terms of technology innovation, consumer awareness, merchandising support, product quality and line coverage.
In short, the Sumitomo brand, one of the oldest and most respected names in the global tire industry, needs a makeover. And just as the doctor ordered, along comes the brand’s new Encounter light truck/SUV line, a key element of a brand renewal that TBC Wholesale, Sumitomo’s U.S. distributor, is confident it can accomplish.
The Encounter line will launch this month with the Encounter HT, an all-season highway tire that will come in 36 total sizes once the roll out is completed in the first quarter of 2016.
The first 22 sizes will be on the market by the end of November, the remaining 14 coming after the calendar turns, according to Jon Vance, senior director of marketing for TBC Wholesale.
“We’ve been short on this segment,” Vance admits of the brand’s thin light truck/SUV offerings in the past.
The all-new S-, T- and H-rated Encounter HT is the first step to staking a stronger claim in that segment.
And TBC has positioned it as a value line, giving tire dealers a wide quality and price reach.
Best of all, noted Vance, this is the first of a series of Sumitomo brand launches slated for the next two to three years. The light truck/SUV segment gets special attention with the addition of the Encounter AT in 2016 and, depending on demand and opportunity, the Encounter MT in the 2019-20 timeframe.
The new Encounter HT is 100% focused on independent tire dealers in all 50 states, Vance said. It won’t be sold through big boxers, it won’t be offered by TBC-owned NTB or Tire Kingdom stores, and it most certainly won’t sit on shelves in a Sears location.
An all-season line, the Encounter HT promises “outstanding wet traction and handling” and “surefooted performance in cold weather,” TBC said. Drivers will take advantage of TBC’s backing: a 60,000-mile treadwear warranty, free two-year roadside assistance coverage, free one-year road hazard protection, lifetime free replacement for workmanship or materials failure, and a 30-day test drive.
Physically, the tire features a non-directional five-rib design for ride stability and defense against irregular wear; wide circumferential grooves for quickly move water and fight hydroplaning; serrated micro-siping to improve wet/winter traction; and variable width shoulder block design for reduced road noise and enhanced comfort.
The solid continuous center rib sits over full-width jointless nylon overlay plies that act to secure belts and optimize stability. The solid bead apex supports increased sidewall stiffness and strength under loaded conditions, while twin steel belts promote durability and carcass strength. The high-tension casing ply provides enhanced tread stability, TBC said.
The Encounter HT also comes with a solid black-letter sidewall design that “boosts aesthetic appeal and delivers stylish, eye-catching appearance,” TBC said.
Across the entire 36 sizes are 16- through 20-inch wheel diameter options. Five sizes are extra load, and seven are LT-metric.