Hankook Tire America Corp. has spent the year quietly adding sizes to its tire lines and developing products to introduce in 2007.
The South Korean-owned tire maker was anything but quiet, however, during the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association Show about its sponsorship of the first Porsche built for U.S. drifting competition.
The Porsche 993 GT2-custom-built by vehicle tuner JIC USA/Cross North America and exhibited at the tire maker´s booth-will compete in the 2007 Need for Speed: Formula Drift Series, which starts in April at Long Beach, Calif., with Formula Drift veteran driver Tyler McQuarrie at the wheel.
The 993 GT2 is powered by a 3.8-liter, 6-cylinder race engine rated at 600-plus horsepower and fitted with Hankook Z212 Ventus Drift tires. The Porsche will participate in some demonstration events in other series as well, but Hankook said the vehicle´s primary focus will be Formula Drift.
Hankook Marketing Director Bill Bainbridge said teaming up with JIC by sponsoring the drifting Porsche is a good fit for Hankook, particularly because the company wants to increase its share of the ultra-high performance tire market. He said Hankook believes it will have a podium or winning potential for each drifting race.
"I think our challenge for 2007 is to ´value up´ the brand by participating in drifting a little differently than what other people do," Bainbridge said. "Bringing in a European car like a Porsche we think helps to value up the brand considerably."
He said that UHP tire manufacturers are feeling the pricing pressure from offshore manufacturers. Hankook believes the companies that come out on top are the ones that sell value and meaning to customers, which is what Hankook hopes the drifting sponsorship will bring.
Hankook covets the 18-to-25-year-old male segment, he said, because "if you can win them over from a branding standpoint at that age," they will continue to be loyal customers over a lifetime. Right now, Hankook is investing in drifting because that´s the motorsports venue that seems to draw the most interest and excitement in these young customers, he said.
Looking ahead to next year, Bainbridge said to expect some new UHP tires and a new Dynapro all-terrain tire, which should be ready in the third quarter.
The tire maker also will challenge dealers to compare its products and programs with its competitors, but Bainbridge declined to elaborate further, saying the company is saving those announcements for its February dealer meeting in Palm Springs, Calif.