LEXINGTON, Ohio—Kumho Tire USA Inc. wants consumers to know that not all ultra-high-performance tires are made equal.
Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing for the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.–based tire marketer, said the UHP market has become more segmented over the last few years as driving enthusiasts have made demands for improvements in some areas of tire performance and been more willing to give up performance in others. Because of this, some more recent UHP tires have had more focused areas of performance.
“The face of UHP is changing so fast, which means you're seeing a lot of proliferation of types now,” and enthusiasts are not settling for “the all-around tire,” Brennan said. Within the UHP segment there are now three or four subcategories of tires, he added.
Kumho has echoed this market trend with the newest addition to its UHP lineup, the Ecsta XS extreme performance tire, which it unveiled during the 2008 Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. The W-rated tire, which began selling in the U.S. in March, is built to maximize dry road performance with enough wet grip to get a driver to the track, Brennan said.
Reporters recently were given the chance to test-drive the tire—fitted on Acura TSX A-spec and Honda S2000 vehicle models—during a ride-and-drive event at the Mid-Ohio Race Course near Lexington.
The Ecsta XS, a street/competition tire for racing enthusiasts, was “really designed for the guy that likes to go to the race track, who drives his car in the summer and maybe not at all in the winter,” Brennan added.
Designed for Sports Car Club of America competition demands, the tire features a low void asymmetric tread pattern with circumferential grooving for high grip during cornering, ultra-fine carbon black compounding for traction and an ultra-wide tread contact with highly rounded shoulders for optimized footprint shape during high lateral loads, Kumho said.
The XS, which was conceptualized and designed at Kumho's technical center in Fairlawn, Ohio, is now available in more than 20 sizes ranging from 15-19 inches in diameter. Typical vehicle fitments for the tire include BMW M3, Subaru WRX STi and Honda S-2000 vehicle models.
Brennan said the XS will replace the Kumho Ecsta MX, an older model UHP tire in Kumho's lineup that was designed with more all-around use in mind.
“As time has evolved there've been tires created from Bridgestone, Yokohama and Falken that kind of pushed the envelope on the dry performance to a new level,” he said.
The MX will remain in Kumho's lineup only in run-flat sizes for the Chevrolet Corvette, the company said.
According to Brennan, the XS complements Kumho's existing UHP lineup, which includes the Ecsta SPT, a value-oriented summer tire; the Ecsta ASX all-season UHP tire; and the Ecsta V710 and W710 street-legal race compound tires. Kumho also will introduce another UHP tire to the line during next spring that will cover more European fitments and has more of a focus on wet performance.
Brennan said sales of the XS thus far have been “as expected,” and he believes they will pick up next year as the tire becomes more proven. He said it has been used competitively in the SCCA street touring class, but Kumho was not able to launch all of the sizes in time for it to be used in the 2009 national championship event.
“This is the type of product you have to get out there and prove its worth because you're dealing with the enthusiast consumer,” he said.