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The Korean company is investing heavily and pushing into Italy with double the subsidiaries, new sales management and a market approach for higher repositioning of the brand

Mino De Rigo

WITH TRUCK TYRES deep in the red, several brands have preferred to look elsewhere, but there are others that have begun to reinvest with confidence. Coming under the latter category is the Korean company Hankook, which has reiterated the strategic importance of our market, in third place for sales in Europe, and has accelerated its development programme.
Stefano Morganti, marketing director of Hankook Tire Italia, said: “Doing our utmost to increase our market share when competitors are giving up in a situation of general suffering, is almost normal for us. And we are ready to ride the wave of recovery more quickly than the others”. So it has renewed its commitment to truck products, an area in which, year after year, the downturn in volumes is close to 40%. “Hankook is clearly moving against the trend”. And to keep the engine of expected growth ticking over it relies on a strategy with several stages. First, it has strengthened its subsidiaries which, compared to 2011, have doubled their marketing employees and structures dedicated to trucks: “Until last year” – Morganti explained – “only the German and British subsidiaries had ad hoc teams for Truck & Bus Radials (TBR); growing more than the market in a way that is not always programmed and taking shares away from premium brands has meant that we have had to adapt our organization quickly”.

More value with direct distribution
The TBR sales channels have also been revised. Until now, in Italy Hankook focused on four main distributors. “Now more than ever” –  emphasized Raffaele Palermo, head of the truck range – “it is necessary to add value to products and put down stronger roots in the territory. This is why we are aiming at building up direct distribution by focusing on specialized retailers. An operation that has already started in the north with good results and has found fertile ground in the centre and south, where it has just begun”. Supporting the level one distribution channel are logistics that can count on two warehouses, one in Somaglia (Lodi) and the other in Pomezia (Rome), for Italy-wide deliveries in 24-48 hours. Another arrow in Hankook’s bow is the start up of production of a series of truck and bus tyres scheduled for next year at the Racalmas factory in Hungary, which already boasts an annual production capacity of 11 million PCR, Tl and 4x4 tyres: “This means” – Morganti pointed out – “that we can supply the market even faster”. At the same time, the Italian subsidiary plans a systematic approach to fleets by taking advantage of specialized TBR dealers, “who already recognize that we have an excellent positioning, based primarily on a very favourable quality/price ratio, and will enable our brand a make a leap in quality”.

The birth of the Hankook Truck Master affiliate
We will give them the chance to test our products because we are confident that we will be able to change the perception of those fleet customers who still see the Hankook range only as a lower cost alternative to premium brands. And to establish that choice is no longer a discriminating factor given the level of quality that has been achieved”. Part of this picture is the new Hankook Truck Master initiative, an affiliation formula conceived to give the truck specialist business wider support with a package that includes signs and POP materials, coordinated clothing and merchandising materials. It will be at their side also during local events that involve customers who could then be useful testimonials. “The intention” – Morganti continued – “is to gradually offer the entire range of support services, including credit that they traditionally receive from other premium brands. For the moment,  the approach to fleets will be restricted to marketing; later it will be commercial”. “Primarily,” – Palermo added – “we must convey the prerogatives of a truck product that has a very good yield.  And we have noticed that once they have been convinced to use them, when it’s time for a changeover they ask for them again”.

Objective in-house retreading
The next step will be to focus on tyre retreading. “Retreading should be understood as a service. For some time now we have been making preparations to supply you directly”.  Apropos of this, e-cube products will be at the basis of the retreading service in the future. E-cube stands for energy, economy and environment and the tyres cover three positions, the all-position AL10, drive tyre DL10 and trailer tyre TL10.
Leaving the language of marketing and coming to the substance of tread compounds, substrates and structure, the compound has longer, more concentrated molecular chains that increase mileage and energy efficiency, the substrate is thicker and designed to improve the absorption of vibrations (responsible for energy dispersion), and the carcass has a new design that is accredited with greater resistance: compared to the previous product, pressure is distributed more evenly inside the tyre, which is subject to deformation by the load. Distinguishing the design of the AL10 e-cube, available in six sizes (from 295/60R22.5 to 385/55R22.5), are wavy blocks interspersed with longitudinal grooves and circular channels in the central rib for driving efficiency and confident steering.

The new e-cube Max line in 2013
Destined for drive axles and made in five sizes, from 295/60R22.5 to 315/80R22.5, the DL10 e-cube tread pattern has shoulder blocks with an optimized coupling bar and block supports designed to improve stone expulsion and reduce stresses and rolling resistance. Lastly, the design of the TL10 e-cube is characterized not only by the special wavy blocks, declaredly aimed at driving efficiency, but also by the width and thickness of the tread that promise resistance to wear and better mileage; the two sizes available are 385/65R22.5 and 445/45R19.5. The range has already evolved in terms of the rolling resistance and load capacity of the three new e-cube Max, which were presented for the first time at the IAA exhibition in Hannover: the AL10+, DL10+ and TL10+ tyres (the first two available in three sizes and the last in one size), are rated “BB”, “CC” and “BB”, respectively, and will join the e-cube standard line by spring 2013. As to Hankook’s line for regional transport, after last year’s debut of the AH22+, the latest arrival is the TH22, the so-called big trailer tyre (385/65R22.5) which completed the range for all bus and truck axles. It features a wider belt structure, reinforced bead and increased tread area compared to the AH22.

• Changes in Hankook
Changes have taken place at the top of the sales management ladder at Hankook Tire Italia. Arriving from Bridgestone, Carlo Citarella: “as part of the wider global objective the group has set for 2020 and summed up in the slogan, 5-1-1. In other words, to become the fifth-largest manufacturer in the world. Hankook is of course a young player with a share of the Italian market that is still in single figures, but the conditions for early and good growth exist”. Now it has to “work on the sales force, on the management of channels with the identification of interfaces that correspond to our objectives, and on evaluating various aspects, including the multi-brand approach” considering that the Korean company’s portfolio also includes the Aurora and King Star brands. Then there is repositioning: “At a time like the present” – the new sales director commented – “the Hankook product is perfect for consumer needs precisely because of its quality/price ratio. Later, however, we must consider repositioning because it is not being given the value it deserves”.

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