Falken’s Rick Brennan Talks New Tires, Manufacturing Investments

Falken’s Rick Brennan Talks New Tires, Manufacturing Investments

In this episode of What’s Treading with Tire Review, presented by AAPEX, SRNA's Rick Brennan talks Falken's new products, investments in manufacturing and what’s in store for 2023.

Like many tiremakers, the Falken brand experienced the supply chain woes brought on by the pandemic, and as recovery continues, it’s looking forward to another exciting year in 2023. Just late last year, Falken launched a pair of new tires that promise to cover more fitments for dealers so that the brand can be their go-to in the marketplace.

In this episode of What’s Treading with Tire Review, presented by AAPEX, Rick Brennan, vice president of strategic planning for Sumitomo Rubber North America (SRNA), sat down with us to tell us about those products, investments in manufacturing and what’s in store for 2023.

EPISODE OVERVIEW:

  • How the new Falken Azenis FK460 will fill a need in a key segment for Falken (0:48) 
  • How the Falken Wildpeak R/T will enhance the company’s light truck product lineup (3:07) 
  • The status of SRNA’s $122 million upgrade of its New York plant (5:12) 
  • The role of OE fitments in Falken’s product strategy (7:07) 
  • New product launches to expect from the Falken brand in 2023 (8:50) 

Subscribe to What’s Treading on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Google Podcasts. You can also read the full podcast transcript below.

Maddie Winer: The Falken Azenis FK460, an all season-UHP tire, is just one of the tires Falken introduced last year, promising to cover a range of high-performance vehicles. When we sat down with Rick at the end of last year, he said the new tire is one that will fill a growing segment in the marketplace.

Rick Brennan: The Azenis FK460 is what we’re calling a true UHP all season. We’ve had ultra-high-performance all-season products in the past that were more, I’ll say on the everyday use side, like the ZE960. This tire does not replace the 960. Basically, it brings in a much higher performance level and lets us go after the true ultra-high performance vehicle that in the past may have been using summer tires only, but now they may need all-season tires. So, it’s more in the class of the Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4, the Continental ExtremeContact DWS 06 Plus. So, it puts us into that performance level that we really didn’t have in an all-season tire before. So, it doesn’t replace anything, which brings more complexity. It’s 85 additional sizes to our product line, and it really fits products like the Dodge Hellcat, and can also fit higher horsepower like the Mustang GT high horsepower VA products.

It brings an all-season tire that gives them the grip and acceleration and cornering they need, but also gives them the ability to drive in winter conditions, not just in the snow. But of course, it has more grip in low temperatures. So, a good winter grip, if you will, an all-around experience for people that really buy cars that they now have to drive every day. But it is a little tougher, like higher horsepower, trying to get grip in bad weather conditions. So that’s the real focus of the 460. It is an addition to the line, not replacing anything.

Winer: Rick said the tire launched with 23 sizes and has a phased-in launch through March. In January, 61 of the sizes were available and Falken will raise that to the full 85 by the spring.

Brennan: For us, it just brings more complexity, but it’s a segment that we feel we need and it’s actually a growing segment in the marketplace. It’s been around a while, but for us, we’ve never really played in this performance zone before.

Winer: The Falken brand also released the much-anticipated Wildpeak R/T, which blends the off-road strengths of a mud-terrain tire with the on-road benefits of an all-terrain tire. Rick said this newer rugged-terrain category will give Falken a full light truck tire lineup in this increasingly complex segment of the tire industry.

Brennan: The RT fits between the Wildpeak, AT3W, that’s all-terrain and the MT, so it’s in between somewhere. The traditional rugged terrain is what the industry now has in the RT category. So, it fits for the most part, lifted trucks, so vehicles that drive on the road, but look like they could climb a tree and offers a bit more mileage. It’s got larger tread blocks for better stability on the road, but it has a tremendous amount of off-road capability as well. So, it’s off-road capable, not a mud tire, but a bit more than an all-terrain. And it still leaves a place for the mud terrain because of the mud capability of a mud terrain tire. So, it gives us that three-prong of the all-terrain. It fits in well with the Wildpeak HT02, which we’ve got for on-highway, and the Wildpeak AT Trail, which is really an all-terrain tire for CUVs.

So that lineup really covers pretty much all the fitments that you need because as we’ve seen over the years, it used to be all-terrain and mud-terrain, but as vehicles have evolved and consumers changed what they drive, pickup trucks became popular, and then they started lifting them and customizing them. So, we saw, just like you saw in cars over decades, same things happen like trucks. So, it has increased the complexity of the offering for light trucks.

Winer: Rick also gave us an update on the company’s Tonawanda, New York, plant. In 2021, SRNA announced a $122 million investment in the plant to ramp up production. At the plant, Falken passenger, light truck and commercial tires are made as well as Dunlop motorcycle tires.

Brennan: We’ve spent just about all the 122 million. Easy to do. But getting it into play and actually seeing more tires come out is taking a lot more time. Keep in mind, the building’s a hundred years old, and it was built in a much different way than traditional tire factories today are. So it’s not easy to now take brand new equipment and move it into the factory.

All that equipment had to be unbolted and moved and re-bolted to the floor, so you could continue to make tires as you were expanding the factory…

The first four of the new eight tire building machines are bolted to the floor. One of them is in the experimental build stage. The other three are still waiting on parts, just like everybody else waiting on stuff that’s coming from overseas. Just chalk it up to another chip issue. But it’s coming along quite well. So, by the middle of next year, we’ll see significant production increases and give us the ability to be more flexible in what we can make in the states and open up the SKU count that we actually make in the US for the US.

Winer: One of the final aspects of SRNA’s business that Rick discussed was OE fitments. Over the years, Falken has gained numerous OE fitments on models like the 2022 Toyota Tundra and Ram 1500.

Brennan: We’re always getting new requests for fitments, especially since we’ve been so active on the light truck side. So, we’ve tried to be as selective as possible to be able to give us fitments that we think would enhance our ability to sell over time. We’ve seen quite a lift in the replacements of all the fitments we’ve collected.

The other thing it’s done is opened up channels that we didn’t have a big reason to enter, like the Ford Around The Wheel Program. Ford is now a pretty big customer, so it opened up that door.

Winer: Finally, we asked Rick what tire dealers should expect from the Falken brand in 2023. For those in its associate dealer program, Falken is working on an app where spiffs can be processed. It also changed its bonus payout structure for its Falken Fanatic program. Instead of offering tiered payouts, it offers the same dollar amount per tire. In addition, Falken has created 14 territory managers whose goal is to service and engage Fanatic dealers, making sure they’re benefitting from the program. And, of course, new tires in emerging segments are on the horizon for the brand.

Brennan: We have an all-weather tire, that’ll be coming Q3, Q4 of next year called the Aklimate.

We have a couple of new products coming on the commercial side as well, which will enhance our ability to cover more segments of the commercial tire market through next year. So next year will just be another exciting year for us, just like the last few have been.

You May Also Like

Hankook Tire America president unpacks the details of the new Dynapro HPX

In this episode of What’s Treading, we get into the nitty-gritty details surrounding Hankook’s new Dynapro HPX tire.

WT-hankook-1400x700

A successful tire launch seems to fall somewhere in the middle of innovation, customer satisfaction and dealer support. By that account, Hankook Tire seems to have followed the tire launch playbook to the letter with the recent debut of its all-season touring tire, the Dynapro HPX, designed for SUVs.

Treads app aims to steer drivers to tire dealers using AI

Zach Olson, founder and CEO of Treads, explains how his direct-to-consumer mobile app uses AI to simplify the car maintenance process.

WT-treads-1400x700
Why BKT wants to maximize the sustainability of OTR tires

BKT’s vice president of OTR delves into the complexities of tire supply during the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles in the OTR sector.

Whats-Treading-BKT-1400x700
Tire Agent Hopes to Reinvent the Online Tire Retail Buying Experience

Jared Kugel, CEO of Tire Agent, shares insights on his company’s strategic customer service methodologies and overall customer engagement.

whats-treading-tire-agent-1400x700
Linglong’s New North American Subsidiary President Maps Out Growth Strategies

Geoff Doster, president of Linglong N.A. Sales, discusses the company’s position in the market as well as his goals for the new subsidiary.

WT-linglong-1400x700

Other Posts

How to maximize your scan tools’ full potential

Get the most our of your tools so they aren’t just expensive code readers.

TR-Continental-scan tool
Falken secures victories at the Mint 400 using Wildpeak M/T, R/T tires

Cole and Sky Johnson secured a victory in the 4400 Unlimited Class and Josh Atteberry earned second place in the 4600 Stock Class.

Falken-Mint-400
Continental Tire introduces six new/refreshed tire products during 2024 GOLD dealer meeting

Company leadership also detailed updates to marketing/incentive programs.

Conti-welcome-logo-outside-1400
Properly diagnosing wheel speed sensors

Wheel speed sensors don’t just read wheel speed – they detect subtle movements to enable all sorts of convenience and safety features.

TR-Continental-speed-sensor