The perfect tire for racetracks and normal roads
The brand has quickly taken on very precise characteristics. We talked about this with Gareth Passmore, business development manager at Falken Tire Europe
Falken Tire was founded 35 years ago, in 1983, not long compared to other producers. Still, the company has a strong DNA and a well recognizable imprint, which is perfectly expressed in the production of its high performance tires, with an eye on SUVs and off-road vehicles; the company, however, did not neglect to include in its range both light and heavy transport tires.
Falken came on the market as a high-performance brand, and part of the Japanese group Ohtsu, traditionally engaged in manufacturing tires and other rubber products.
The production and marketing strategy chosen was at first rather conservative: the product portfolio grew slowly and commitment to sports was initially limited to Japan. The idea was, at first, to highlight the technological know-how of the company, and then, once these foundations were laid, expand with new products on global markets.
A step-by-step yet consistent growth.
In 2003, Ohtsu Rubber & Tire was incorporated into Sumitomo Rubber Industries, the world's sixth largest tire manufacturer, becoming one of the group’s main suppliers.
Other important milestones were the opening of a subsidiary in Europe, which took place in 1988 in the German city of Offenbach, and one in the United States in 1991. Furthermore, in 2008 proving grounds multiplied as Falken Tyre Europe GmbH was born: besides its "second house" at Nürburgring, the company can rely on 2 additional structures in Japan and 4 in Europe, more precisely in Spain, Germany, Sweden and Finland.
1999 saw the company enter the sports “arena” in grand style, participating in races such as the Adac 24-hour in the legendary “green hell” at Nürburgring, a world-famous racetrack of which Falken has been main sponsor since 2001. Soon enough, racing began to bring great satisfactions: in 2005 Team Falken clinches first place in its class and fifth place overall in the Nürburgring 24 Hours. In 2011 Falken signed an agreement with Porsche and in the 2015 edition of the 24 Hours race the team took third place overall with the German manufacturer. The group’s sporting commitment, however, is not limited just racetracks and pit-lanes, and continued on football fields, with commercial partnerships with such teams as Liverpoool FC and Ingolstadt 04, in the sky, as main sponsors of a Japanese pilot in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, and on snow, following agreements for the spectacular Audi Nines.
Prestigious recognitions indeed.
The production range, likewise, grew over time: the first tire dates back to 1983, while the first uncompromising UHP tire, the FK451, appeared in 1999. The first all-season, the Euroall Season 200, and the first Runflat hit the market in 2012. Falken boasts several runflat patents.
From the past to current news, we cannot avoid mentioning the new 4 seasons Euroall Season AS210, which improves anti-aquaplaning properties by 8% and reduces breaking distances by 6% on wet roads compared to its predecessor. Its Advanced 4D-Nano Design technology, which studies the structure of the compound at a molecular level adjusting it to optimize grip and rolling resistance, increased mileage by 10% compared to the AS200. Unveiled during Tire Cologne in 2018, the Euroall Seasons AS210 is available in many sizes, with an aspect ratio ranging between 40 and 70 and ready to be fitted to 13 to 19 inch wheels.
Recently Mercedes adopted Falken tires for its iconic, and demanding, G-Class off-road vehicle, a 265/60R18 off-road tire (but equally at home also on sand) named Wildpeak A/T3WA and the all-season AS210A.
So far we have described the past and present of Falken Tires but Pneurama wants to know more and for this we interviewed Gareth Passmore, business development manager of FalkenTyre Europe.
How is Falken dealing with the various market segments in Italy such as cars, SUVs and commercials?
"Falken traditionally follows its products in two different ways: final consumers, according to the season, and the commercial and heavy vehicles segment such as trucks and buses".
What does the Italian market represent for Falken Tire Europe and how important is it?
"It is one of the 5 largest tire markets in Europe and therefore an integral part of our medium-term plan. We see a great potential for growth in Italy and we are determined to pay more attention to this country in the near future".
Are there any commercial initiatives currently active in Italy? If so, are they aimed at end users and/or retailers?
"We follow different strategies across Europe. In Italy we have chosen consolidated wholesale distributors as partners and, through them, we can reach a large number of retailers".
How is the development of FalkenPoints going? Are you reaching your targets?
"The Falken Point project is constantly evolving and we are satisfied with the results obtained so far. However, FalkenTire Europe is an ambitious company and we are determined to intensify our efforts as far as this and other initiatives in the near future".
Falken is quite active in motorsports: how does your racing experience benefit your production tires?
"I’m glad you asked: in September the Falken racing team got first and second place in a race in the Eudurance VLN Championship which took place on the legendary Nürburgring racetrack and our Porsche recorded the fastest lap time of the circuit in the history of the VLN championship. Racing has certainly contributed to bolster Falken’s image and reputation over the last few years and are proving to be a valuable testing ground for our new compounds".
The Italian catalogue contains several “special” tires (winter, off-road and SUVs): How important are these segments for Falken?
"We believe that being present in most market segments is crucial, and we are gaining a growing reputation for being able to supply our tires even to a niche group of users. This puts our technological know-how to the test, preparing us for future market developments".
Do you believe that All Season tires might reduce the workload of tire dealers, seeing that they usually substitute two tire sets, a summer and a winter set to be precise?
"The All Season segment is thriving throughout Europe and, given that Italy is the second largest market behind Germany, it is bound to affect the replacement business. Obviously, some may consider it a threat to the retail trade, however, in areas where winter tires are absolutely necessary they are generally not replaced by All Seasons. Furthermore, All Season tires offer an opportunity to sell the 'All-Year' option in areas of the country traditionally not so keen on winter tires. Markets are constantly changing and tire manufacturers and distributors are called upon to adapt and follow the trends".
High efficiency tires ("A" in the European labelling system) do not seem to be very common in the Falken range. Electric cars are still quite rare, but Renault, for example, is already equipping its Scenic with 195/55 R20 for maximum efficiency. Is Falken thinking of expanding its range with high efficiency products?
"Actually, Falken has already developed tires specifically designed for the hybrid vehicles of a premium car manufacturer. So, like other tire manufacturers, we are actively following the latest trends in the automotive industry. Efficiency is a priority in the development of our product portfolio".
How do you view “smart tires”, able to communicate with the vehicle’s on-board computer on grip, tread wear, mileage and so forth?
"I believe that the ability to gather and transmit such vital data is proof of how far the tire industry has come. However, I do not consider these to be real "selling-points", or something that may attract final consumers who purchase tires. Returns on investment in this segment would probably be negligible; things change, however, if we consider development and testing activities by tire makers. This is clearly different in the commercial sector, where the focus is placed on traceability and product performance through all the data collected daily."