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Green technology is invading Toyo and it is making the new products dedicated to energy efficiency the main players in a total strategic turnabout. The brand will be repositioned in Italy to target a very much wider market

Francesco Lojola

FROM A BRAND specializing in tuning to a generic brand with the accent on green. This is the revolution by Japanese company Toyo, a very familiar name with Italian enthusiasts of track days, performance tuning, drifting and uphill races, but still without the all-round positioning that it has acquired elsewhere. “In effect”  – admitted Marco Cecconi, long-time chairman of Toyo Tires Italia – “to date the brand has targeted the elite and is the prerogative of enthusiasts, but it must change now”. Hence the strategic turnabout to change the underlying trend and a perception that has become too constricting for the Japanese company.
The cornerstone is hi-tech innovation called Nano Balance, which is described as a combination of four elements (research, analysis, design and production) crossed with nanotechnologies: it is the platform that has just produced the new Nanoenergy 1 and 2 tyres dedicated to maximum energy efficiency. Cecconi added: “We can and want to convince our customers, mainly young people looking for the highest performance, from handling on the track to better wet grip, that, performance being equal, the tyres that win are those that save fuel.”

The Nano Balance innovation
We certainly don’t deny our racing vocation, which is represented in particular by the Proxes T1 Sport, but in accordance with our ‘driven to perform’ motto, we want to reach a wider public”. In the light of the new European label, the most obvious and understandable approach can only be to achieve the best ratings with regard to rolling resistance and wet grip. Specifically, Nanoenergy 1 is self-certified as AB and Nanoenergy 2 as AC. At the basis are new processes and new materials developed according to the Nano Balance philosophy. Its starting off point was to observe with the precision of a nanometre (used to measure the size of microprocessor elements) the state of the components in the compounds, silica, carbon black and various polymers.
The movement of the polymer molecules was then simulated to assess the loss of energy at atomic level: reducing rubber’s molecular movement signifies decreasing the generation of heat. The next stage was to control friction between materials by means of optimal dispersion, to the advantage of smoothness but without affecting grip; the nano-materials underwent specific processes that were chosen by nano-analysis to prevent the fillers that reinforce the compound, like silica and carbon black, from thickening and compromising the balance to be achieved for the best performance

Energy efficiency first and foremost
Another key element was the study, again with a nanometre, of the pressures on the structure that would optimize contact with the ground and the dispersion of friction heat that is necessary to balance low rolling resistance and braking performance.
This led to the introduction of the two green products, Nanoenergy 1, available from February in size 195/65R15 91H, and Nanoenergy 2, which has just arrived on the market in 15 sizes from 185/60 R15 88H to 225/45 R17 94W. One targets hybrid and electric cars for fuel efficiency and maximum driving comfort: “It really feels” –  Cecconi assured us – “as though you’re driving on velvet because of its ability to filter uneven road surfaces. And because it is silent”: 68 db declared, which testifies to the attention that Toyo has also given to this parameter and the advantages for the environment. Its brother, Nanoenergy 2, is for hybrids but also for city cars and mid-range vehicles, “it also features a high silica content, better continuous belts and close blocks”. It is not quite as quiet (70 db) and is in a lower class for wet grip (“C” compared to “B” for Nanoenergy 1), but the tread pattern is very similar and is constructed around four longitudinal grooves that promise ample resistance to aquaplaning.

The same price in Europe
The chairman of Toyo Tires Italia continued – “We are recruiting new consultants who can promote us, no longer just in the area of tuning and motorsports, but also on the market as a whole. Of course, the economic crisis has clipped the wings of the five-year business plan prepared in 2009”. Last year, the Italian subsidiary sold about 600,000 tyres, 12% of Toyo’s volumes for the whole of Europe. This is still a tempting market, especially with the emergence of Russia where the company is in strong expansion. It is in the European area that the group’s revised growth strategy is trying to make a decisive turnabout.
In the first place, it means” – Cecconi continued – “standardizing the subsidiaries’ sales policies and harmonizing prices, because the markets are communicating vessels so we must review our method of working: distributors in Europe are also realizing that they must accept what has happened in Japan, where Toyo’s reaction has been to return to commercial prerogatives”. In Italy, the immediate aim is to achieve a market share of 3%: the brand needs to grow by another 10%.

Service is the cornerstone
We will get there without looking for easy distribution outlets. We want to maintain our presence in Italy, but the approach to retailers will depend increasingly on service. In other words, there are many tyre specialists who would be much happier to receive products in 4-8 hours rather than wait a week just to have a discount of 3 or 4 points”.
A logic that stems from the aim of repositioning the brand by leveraging relationships with dealers: “Strengthening the attention to relationships” – Cecconi pointed out – “and raising the quality of the service are imperative for partnerships with the 620 Toyo retailers that have been selected from those who share this commitment. That is, if there are several specialists operating in a certain city, we will choose the one with the best reputation in terms of service. We are not interested in those that aim at quantity: car drivers must be looked after and encouraged to be loyal”. But now is the time to spread the repositioning message: “We intend to invest in outlets to increase visibility. Small interventions and targeted initiatives that will yield more than TV or newspaper advertising. We are convinced that nothing can be better than word of mouth for conveying the quality of our binomial – product plus service”.

• Group balance sheet and a new factory in Europe
Despite the disastrous effects of the earthquake, lifeless trends in developed and mature markets, the continual increase in raw materials and a stronger yen, the Toyo Tire & Rubber Group closed its balance sheet in the black. The financial year that ended March 2012 showed 9% growth in consolidated turnover and a 4% increase in profits. Turnover from tyres represents three-quarters of the total, the remainder coming from chemical and industrial products and automotive parts. Compared to the previous financial year, the increase in tyre sales was close to 11.2%, with volume growth of 6 percentage points.
Especially in Asia and North America, where Toyo Tires recorded +14% and +8%, respectively, which brought total sales to over 30 million units. Of these, a sixth were in Europe, where the downturn was about 20%. But the Old Continent is the declared target of a re-launch and Toyo will continue to invest in it. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia will be competing for the construction of a new factory scheduled for completion by 2017.

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