The commercial tire industry took notice last year when Yokohama Tire Corporation broke ground for its new plant in West Point, Mississippi. Set to open in October 2015, the facility is expected to produce up to one million commercial tires annually, and solidify Yokohama’s ability to grow its dealers’ business with new products and ample supply.
Rick Phillips, Yokohama senior director, commercial and OTR sales, discusses the Mississippi plant, as well as what the commercial tire market can expect in 2014 and in the coming years.
Question: How will the commercial plant in Mississippi benefit Yokohama?
Phillips: We have always had an aggressive growth plan. In 2013, Yokohama outpaced the market and grew its market share over 2012. The Mississippi plant will allow us to bring our products to the market for all channels even faster and with greater efficiency.
Logistically, Mississippi is an ideal location for us. It fits perfectly with our distribution strategy and long-range plans, and our relationship with the state has been excellent. We can’t wait for the plant to go on line and roll the first tire out of production.
Question: How have your dealers reacted to the building of the plant?
Phillips: As strategic partners of Yokohama, they are all very supportive and excited to see us make this kind of statement in the U.S.
Question: Has it been decided which commercial tires will be produced there?
Phillips: We have an initial plan and will continue to look at the overall production plan. A lot is based on new product development and when some of them will be ready to release.
Question: Speaking of new products, what tires will YTC be launching at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Kentucky?
Phillips: We’ll have two new ultra wide base (UWB) drive tires: the new 902L™ and 709L™, which will both come in size 445/50R22.5. Plus, we’ll unveil a new coach/bus all-position tire, the 104ZR™ Spec-2, which will come in size 315/80R22.5.
UWB tires such as the 902L and 709L are part of YTC’s long-term plan. We’re seeing more of a demand for them because of the weight savings, which is where fleets can find an immediate benefit. Thanks to the advanced design and compounds, both tires are built for long wear and fuel efficiency.
The 104ZR Spec-2 is a workhorse that also delivers longer treadwear, as well as low rolling resistance and enhanced traction. That’s why it’s ideal for coach and regional/long haul tour bus applications. It also highlights Yokohama’s commitment to continuous improvements in our products. Spec-2-designated tires feature enhanced technology – especially in the compound – to provide optimal performance.
The theme of our MATS booth (14124) is ‘Defining the Future,’ and there will be a timeline with our new products, technologies and, of course, the opening of our Mississippi plant. Yokohama is definitely blazing a trail.
Question: How is the EPA’s SmartWay program going?
Phillips: It’s going well. Yokohama is a big proponent of the SmartWay program because it promotes environmental responsibility and fuel-efficient tires, which we practice and produce. I’ve said it before, we were green before green was cool. We started this initiative several years ago and it’s something we continue to this day.
We currently have nine SmartWay-verified tires and will continue to use our technology to make our commercial tires more fuel-efficient without sacrificing performance.
Question: Besides fuel-efficient tires, what other ways is YTC helping fleets manage their tire costs?
Phillips: Today’s fleet owners and truck operators are faced with the challenge of effectively managing tires as business assets – they are always looking for ways to operate more efficiently and lower their cost per mile. Tires make up the third largest operating cost for most fleets, so they have to be highly productive and have a long service life. Any solution we can provide, tire-wise, helps.
Our SmartSolution® program is divided into a four-pillar value proposition: longevity, efficiency, availability and dependability. It unifies the benefits that Yokohama commercial products offer, underscoring the advantages created in the fleets’ operation and improvements in the fleets’ bottom line. We literally have become a ‘smart solution’ for our dealers.
Question: What are some of today’s hot industry topics and how will they affect the industry and Yokohama in 2014 and beyond?
Phillips: We are dependent on the trucking industry and freight movement is tied directly to the economy. Most of the headwinds facing the economy have decreased and there might be a nice growth trend ahead, barring a catastrophic event.
The driver shortage and government regulations, such as CSA (compliance, safety, and accountability), will have an impact on the industry, but to what extent, everyone is still watching closely.
With respect to driver shortage, one industry estimate puts it at around 200,000. This could worsen even more if housing construction jobs increase and drivers switch to construction truck-driving jobs.
Regarding CSA, it helps keep drivers safe and fleets accountable, which is important. They have to keep their equipment up to certain standards and drivers have certain guidelines, too. It’s a big undertaking but it’s all about safety, and both sides will have to learn to manage it effectively.
As far as the overall market, there has been some fluctuation the last few years. Since coming out of the recession, the years 2010 and 2011 satisfied a lot of pent-up demand. Unfortunately, 2012 took a dip as the recovery wasn’t as robust. Last year though, we saw a slight increase that we expect will continue throughout 2014. The economy is ready for a growth spurt, and Yokohama is ready for it.
Yokohama Tire Corporation is the North American manufacturing and marketing arm of Tokyo, Japan-based The Yokohama Rubber Co., Ltd., a global manufacturing and sales company of premium tires since 1917. Servicing a network of more than 4,500 points of sale in the U.S., Yokohama Tire Corporation is a leader in technology and innovation. The company’s complete product line includes tires for high-performance, light truck, passenger car, commercial truck and bus, and off-the-road mining and construction applications. For more information on Yokohama’s extensive product line, visit www.yokohamatire.com.
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Yokohama is a strong supporter of the tire care and safety guidelines established by the Rubber Manufacturers Association and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration. Details can be found at the “Tire Care & Safety” section at www.yokohamatire.com.