GREEN, Ohio—Now that American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. officially has opened a permanent U.S. technical center within jogging distance of LeBron James' hometown of Akron, the Taiwanese-based tire manufacturer can focus on its primary goal.
The world's No. 28 tire maker wants to become a Tier 1 original equipment supplier for the North American market.
Kenda's James—James (Jimmy) Yang, American Kenda Rubber Co. Ltd. president—made those intentions explicitly clear to the assembled group of employees, business leaders, government officials and media during his firm's ribbon-cutting ceremony held Nov. 9 to open the 50,000-sq.-ft. facility.
“The OE business will give me two ingredients,” said Yang, who unveiled his own James jersey during the ceremony, comparing himself comically to LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers great. Kenda is a sponsor of the NBA's Cavs.
“One is the marketing that will help elevate the brand image. Two, it will force Kenda to raise the bar on this technology, the same as we've done (manufacturing) bicycle, ATV, lawnmower and motorcycle tires. One of the reasons Kenda is a substantial player, a leading brand in those specialty tire markets, is because Kenda (has) very good market share in those areas, which helps Kenda's brand image in those areas and which also helps raise the engineering capability.”
Kenda already supplies temporary spare tires to several auto makers in North America, Yang said. “Those relationships certainly will help Kenda break into the ground tire business,” he said, citing Hankook as a company who forged the same path.
Yang was one of nine company or government officials to address the gathering during the opening ceremony, which included Mary Taylor, lieutenant governor of the state of Ohio, and Kenda Chairman Ying Ming Yang, Jimmy's brother.
Yang stressed that Kenda's long-term goal doesn't mean the company will abandon nor de-emphasize its substantial market share in the specialty tire sector.
“(Automotive OE) will account for a lot of Kenda's future growth,” he said. “Right now, the bicycle tires, the motorcycle tires and automotive tires all have even market share. But eventually our automotive tires business will account for more than 50 percent of total company sales.”
The goal, Yang said, is for his firm to secure an OE contract within four to five years.
And the opening of the technical center, where OE-quality tires can be developed and tested, is a big step in that direction.