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From ‘Low Profile’ to UHP: Hankook Takes the High-Speed Road to Build Brand in U.S.

Hankook Takes the High-Speed Road to Build Brand in U.S.

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Intentionally or unintentionally, Hankook Tire America Corp. has spent most of its first 25 years in the U.S. as a fairly quiet organization. When it had something to say, it did so. Otherwise, Hankook – South Korea’s largest tire company – kept a ‘low profile,’ so to speak.

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But, over the last three years, Hankook has stepped out. Buoyed by its OE successes – most recently earning optional fitment on the 2006 Saturn Ion – and a more aggressive brand promotion effort, Hankook has raised its profile considerably. So much so that Tire Review estimates that Hankook now holds a 2.3% share of P-metric tire dealer business and a solid 2.4% share of high performance tire sales through dealers.

Hankook has also ventured into the world of media and dealer ride-and-drives, making the most of these opportunities to showcase its latest tires. Most recently, Hankook hosted such an event in northern California, at which it paired its newest ultra-high performance tires against units from Kumho, Falken, Pirelli and Michelin.

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Held just prior to the inaugural San Jose Grand Prix Champ Car series race, the event gave attendees the opportunity to compare Hankook’s Ventus R-S2 premium sport UHP and Ventus S1 Evo luxury premium UHP against rivals on a lengthy autocross course set up in a parking lot at Paramount’s Great American Park in neighboring Santa Clara.

The Ventus R-S2 was matched up against Kumho and Falken products on Mitsubishi Eclipse Spiders, while the luxury-targeted Ventus S1 Evo saw action against Pirelli and Michelin tires on BMW X4s. Both tires hit the market earlier this year.

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Bill Bainbridge, Hankook’s director of marketing, provided an overview of the Hankook brand globally and in North America. Bainbridge said that the company’s marketing goals going forward include broadening its dealer base, improving brand awareness and building brand equity through an aggressive, multi-pronged program featuring enhanced POS materials and stronger trade and enthusiast advertising. Hankook will also continue its signage efforts in U.S. stadiums and arenas, recently expanded to select college football venues.

Bainbridge also said that OE will remain an integral part of Hankook’s focus in North America. The company said the new Saturn fitment – coupled with existing business with Ford, Volkswagen, Renault, Daihatsu, Mitsubishi and others – would boost its non-domestic OE business to 10% of its total exports.

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Ray Labuda, head of Hankook’s Akron, Ohio, technical center gave a briefing on the two tires that were driven.

The Ventus R-S2 has a symmetrical tread pattern with four wide circumferential grooves to resist hydroplaning, Labuda said, and the tread face itself is 3% larger than other Hankook models to enhance traction, especially at high speeds. Hankook’s high-grip silica compound delivers “outstanding wet and dry traction,” he said.

Based on Hankook’s Ventus RS2 Z211 race tire, the Ventus R-S2 has extra-wide “shark fin” shoulder block grooves to disperse water and maintain block stability while cornering, Labuda said. The tire has two high-density plies of nylon and rayon and steel belts for durability, stiffness and stability. A reinforced “rim guard” and shoulder slots to help disperse belt edge heat complete the package.

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With a UTQG rating of 200 AAA, the Ventus R-S2 is available in 17 V-, W- and Y-rated sizes; seven 17- and 18-inch sizes are extra load.

Hankook’s Ventus S1 Evo was designed for improved durability and minimum high-speed distortion, Labuda said. Hankook optimized the tire’s ground contact for better handling and traction – wet or dry – Labuda said, and an asymmetric tread pattern resists hydroplaning and minimizes noise.

Inside, high-density, zero-degree nylon belts rest over the steel belt package to enhance responsiveness and deliver a “uniform and controlled footprint” while cornering at speed. Hankook added technology that minimizes tread elongation at high speeds, providing a larger, more reliable contact patch, he said.

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Labuda said Hankook’s goal with the Ventus S1 Evo was to create “a world-class UHP tire” that was unique in technology with “the performance to match.”

The Y-rated tire has a UTQG rating of 280 AAA and is available in 11 sizes for 17- to 22-inch wheel diameters, all extra-load.

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