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Dealer to increase number, types of Chinese tires

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Brian Mielko (left), vice president of marketing at Sailun Tire International Corp., and John Vance, senior director of product marketing at TBC Wholesale, pose with the Sailun Atrezzo Z4+AS UHP tire.

JUPITER, Fla.—TBC Corp. is increasing the number and types of a tire brand it sources from China that faded from the U.S. market during three years of higher duties on Chinese-made consumer tires.

The tire retailer and distributor is increasing shipments of the Sailun value line brand it obtains from Qingdao, China-based Sailun Co. Ltd. It also is providing Atrezzo performance passenger product lines and expanded size ranges in the Terramax SUV line, both designed for the North American market.

The launch represents a rebirth of the brand in the U.S. following the end of the elevated U.S. tariffs on tires from China, according to Brian Mielko, vice president, marketing, Sailun Tire International Corp.

TBC has distributed Sailun's tires in the U.S. for most of the past decade, but the tariffs from September 2009 to September 2012 cut heftily into the brand's sales and delayed new product development.

The expansion begins with the Atrezzo Z4+AS, an all-season version of the Sai-lun Atrezzo high-performance line available in 21 sizes ranging from 205/55R16 91W to 255/35R20 97W.

TBC is pitching the Z4+AS as a value-priced alternative to Tier I and Tier II major brands, according to Mielko, who discussed the firm's activities at Palm Beach International Raceway near Ju-piter. TBC brought dealers and media members to the track for the product launch.

Company executives and dealers at the event said they expect the product to be priced roughly 35 to 40 percent below comparable competitors.

TBC and Sailun are taking steps to demonstrate to U.S. dealers that the Atrezzo line, while priced measurably lower than competitors' products, offers on-road performance that is close or equal to that of major brands.

With the expiration of the tariffs last September, Sailun accelerated the development of new products for the American market, according to Sam Zhou, vice general manager for Sailun. That resulted in the Z4+AS and the W-rated ZS-R summer UHP tire with asymmetric tread due out late this year or early in 2014.

These lines complement the T- and H-rated SH402 and T-rated Touring LS all-season performance tires in the Atrezzo passenger line along with Teramax CVR, H/T and A/T and Atrezzo SVR LX light truck/SUV lines.

TBC, along with Dynamic Tire Corp. in Canada—the brand's Canadian importer and distributor—and Sailun, have coined the tag line "With you through every turn" and are backing the premise with a limited treadwear guarantee, optional road-hazard coverage and marketing efforts to portray the brand as reliable and safe.

"It's important to remember that quality has nothing to do with country of origin," Mielko said, "but everything to do with the technology in the factory."

In relaunching the brand aggressively in the U.S., Sailun and TBC are relying on the "three pillars" of quality, trust and support to try to build brand equity.

Quality, Mielko said, refers to the firm's factory in Qingdao and its relationship with university-level engineering resources, trust is built through third-party testimonials/recommendations—including "blind comparison" testing such as that carried out at Palm Beach Raceway—and support comes in the form of broader warranty coverage and reliable distributors such as Flynn's Tire Group or Sullivan Tire Inc.

Sailun's consumer tire sales in North America are in the 2 million unit range, he said, and the firm's goal is 15- to 20-percent growth in 2014.

Sailun develops its technology in-house, Zhou said, and in partnership with the Qingdao University of Science & Technology.