Value UHP. Global. Complete. These are just a few of the words Kumho Tire USA Inc. is using in its quest to build its brand identity, refocus its image and ultimately compete with larger tire brands.
In early June, journalists from tire industry and automotive enthusiast publications throughout North America were invited to the BeaveRun Motorsport Complex in Big Beaver, Pa., to test out the new Ecsta SPT Sport ultra-high performance tire recently launched by Kumho.
The Ecsta SPT, originally introduced in March in 34 sizes, replaces the Ecsta Supra 712. The remaining sizes, which brings the total offerings to nearly 60, will be introduced during July and August, Kumho said.
The new tire, available in H, V, W or Y speed ratings, “is the next generation of value UHP,” said Rick Brennan, Kumho’s brand manager. The main improvements the new tire offers over the 712 are better grip and handling, improved wet performance and a more refined look, Brennan said.
High-speed durability is enhanced by the tire’s jointless cap and layer construction, and wet and dry grip as well as wear are improved with a dual-compound (cap and base), silica-enhanced tread, according to Brennan. He added that the Ecsta SPT incorporates Kumho’s “casing tension control technology,” which controls the tension of the casing for better handling and response. It also features a rim flange protector to protect against scuffing.
Kumho said, in creating the Ecsta SPT, engineers tapped technology developed for the company’s F3 race tires.
At the BeaveRun Complex, journalists had the chance to drive 2005 Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s fitted with the new Ecsta SPT tires, size 225/40R18 on the front and 265/35R18 on the rear, through a wet and dry autocross course.
But the event was about more than the new tire; it was about Kumho Tire USA’s plans to strengthen its brand identity in the eyes of consumers. The focus of that identity is broader market coverage, officials said.
“We are not a niche manufacturer,” said David Hudrlik, vice president of sales and marketing for Kumho, during a brief presentation. “We are a complete manufacturer, developing tires for racing, passenger, light truck, aircraft, and more.”
Hudrlik reminded journalists that Kumho maintains four “state-of-the-art” tire plants three in Korea and one in China. “We’re a global company,” he said. “We’ve been an exporter since 1965 and are marketed in 160 countries.”
Hinting at future developments at Kumho, Hudrlik told journalists that, while the tiremaker has traditionally focused on passenger tires, light truck tires will be the company’s next big focus.
Particularly with strategic sponsorships, such as Championship Off Road Racing (CORR), Kumho hopes to bolster its light truck tire image in the minds of consumers. Kumho is the official tire of the CORR Lucas Oil Series for 2005.
Further emphasizing its broad market coverage through hands-on experience, Kumho offered rides in Ford Expeditions fitted with Ecsta STX tires in size 305/35R24. In addition to observing ride quality on public highways, journalists also had a chance to experience the effects of plus sizing, as the 17-inch OE tires on the Expeditions were swapped with Kumho 24-inch tires (a Plus 7!).
And, Kumho told journalists it has recently started offering the Ecsta STX in size 325/35R28 120V.
Finally, to showcase its off-road tire offering, Kumho loaded journalists into Hummer H2s fitted with the company’s new Road Venture A/T KL78 all-terrain tires in size LT325/50R22. The Hummers took on Pennsylvania’s rocky and sometimes muddy back roads.
“Large diameter wheels are a fairly new concept in the off-road market,” said Kumho engineer Frank Secondari. “They provide the off-roaders with a tire/wheel combination that maintains off-road grip and improves highway handling and style.”
Even with its renewed focus on light truck tires, though, Kumho keeps a watchful eye on the rapidly growing high performance and ultra-high performance tire segments. Kumho plans to continue boosting its motorsports image through exposure at races. Specifically, Kumho has entered the American Le Mans Series for the first time this year and has just started sponsoring Street Warriorz street-legal drag racing events within the past few months.
Last, but certainly not least, Kumho assured journalists that it would continue to participate in red-hot motorsports trends. Team Enjuku drifters wowed journalists by punishing Kumho’s recently introduced Ecsta MX-C drifting tire, which releases plumes of red smoke as the rubber heats up.