Falken swoops on the European OE tyre market

By Matthew Beecham | 11 January 2017

Stephan Cimbal

Stephan Cimbal

Falken Tyre recently formed an OE partnership with Czech car manufacturer Škoda, marking the latest in a series of manufacturer relationships. To find out more and how the OE side of its business is shaping up, we spoke to the tyre maker's European head of marketing, Stephan Cimbal.

The Škoda Superb is the latest car to be fitted with Falken tyres as standard, can you tell us more about this?

This is a really exciting opportunity with a new brand for Falken – we're delighted to be expanding our supply with Škoda as an OE supplier. After supplying the Citigo, we will now also be supplying the Superb with a Falken ZIEX ZE914 ECORUN tyre, which is a sporty yet comfortable product in the Falken range.

We believe it delivers attributes that OEMs are looking for in this type of car; an exceptionally comfortable ride together with a lower rolling resistance to reduce energy loss and therefore fuel consumption, without compromising on grip. The latest generation of Superb is 30 per cent more economical on fuel, so the efficiency of the Falken ZIEX ZE914 ECORUN is particularly well-suited to the Superb and its target market.

Where are the tyres for Škoda being produced?

We will be delivering 215/55R17 94W ZE914 A EC tyres to Škoda's production facility at Kvasiny in the Czech Republic. The tyres will be produced at Sumitomo Rubber Industries' (SRI) state-of-the-art tyre plant in Thailand, which has just celebrated ten years of operation. Since its launch it has grown to be the largest factories in the SRI group in terms of production capacity, supplying tyres to over 180 countries around the world.

Can you see the potential to expand to other models within the range?

We definitely see the potential of the Škoda range as a showcase for Falken products. Our shared focus on performance, great value, comfort and durability, yet creating a fun and enjoyable experience, makes our two brands fitting partners.

Beyond the Citigo and Superb models, Škoda is part of the VW Group and we already supply Falken tyres to other models within this. From this relationship with VW we are seeing greater brand recognition and people are increasingly choosing Falken as a known tyre manufacturer when they visit a garage or tyre fitter – they've had a good experience with their Falken OE tyre and they want the same as a replacement. We hope that this and the opportunity within the VW Group continues to go from strength to strength.

When we last spoke you mentioned that Falken was looking to improve OE relations. Obviously Škoda show positive steps there – can you provide us with an update generally?

It's been a really busy 12 months for Falken: the OE side of the business has been a key focus and has grown significantly. Škoda comes on board following announcements in the last six months that Falken will supply both FCA and SEAT with OE tyres.

For FCA, Falken is providing high performance ZIEX CT50 tyres for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, which is available in North America. This is an extension of our existing FCA relationship, as the 2016 Chrysler 200 BUX (Built-Up Export) models are already fitted with ZIEX ZE914 ECORUN tyres, as are Jeep Compass vehicles.

SEAT is another manufacturer from the VW Group that we have now expanded our supply to. This summer we announced that the Spanish manufacturer's first SUV, the SEAT Ateca, will run AZENIS FK453CC and ZIEX ZE914A tyres. Again, growing our relationship with the VW Group in different directions with different brands is a very positive step.

As well as these recent announcements, we also have an existing relationship with Honda, as we began supplying ZIEX ZE914 ECORUN tyres as an option for the Honda HR-V, its crossover SUV.

What do you think has contributed to this increase in Falken's OE partnerships?

OEMs want to ensure that the drivers of their vehicles are receiving a comfortable, responsive and safe ride – tyres play a vital part in that. We're delivering quality, high-performance tyres at the right price for manufacturers. We are also flexible and responsive; creating specific tyres where the manufacturer demands from a proven platform to provide customisation at an affordable level.

We are working to make Falken a strong brand personality with a focus on Technology, Excitement and Lifestyle. Our look and feel is increasingly positive and attractive in the market, as are our associations with motorsport, football, Red Bull Air Race and other action brands. I feel that we're very much living up to our new brand statement – 'on the pulse'.

What other changes has this brought about within the company?

With a revitalised focus, Falken has launched an unprecedented number of new tyre products in recent months. In February we introduced the AZENIS FK510, which sits at the top end of our high-performance range and addresses the growing demand for ultra-high performance (UHP) tyres. It has been developed using insight from 4D Nano Design Technology, where the compound is developed at the nano level to maximise grip and improve wear. It's received fantastic reviews, achieving 'Highly Recommended' status in German car magazine Autozeitung as well as with the German association of technical inspectors, GTÜ.

New for autumn/winter is the EUROWINTER HS01, which is our latest passenger car winter tyre. It has a special new tread design that was inspired by an origami folding pattern to create extra surface area and improve grip. Called 3D Miura-Ori sipes, this new design contributes to the EUROWINTER HS01 offering five percent better snow and wet handling and ten percent better aquaplaning resistance versus its predecessor. We have also recently added the ESPIA ICE tyre in the Nordic region, which has unique box-shaped stud-pins that are perfect for crushing ice and improving traction and braking in icy conditions.

Outside of the passenger car market, we have introduced new truck tyres for regional traffic applications in the last 12 months. We've followed this up with new Nordic winter truck tyres – the SI011 and SI021 – as well as a new winter van tyre, the VAN01. We are offering a widening scope of products and that variety, manufacturing flexibility and experience is a positive for partners.

What other activities are you undertaking to push the brand out there and attract more OEMs to the table?

We continue to have a strong involvement in motorsport, our brand's DNA. We finished ninth at the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2016, which is a real test of grit and determination on a treacherous circuit. We're also very proud to be working with drift driver James Deane, who [recently] won his third consecutive Drift Allstars European Championship this summer.

Outside of motorsport we continue to look and expand our sporting partnerships. Football is an area we are keen to expand, and we're also branching out into more extreme and lifestyle focused avenues. We had success in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, with the Team Falken pilot winning a round early last year in Japan.

We are also partnering with other brands such as drone manufacturer DJI, which is helping us to showcase our activities and events to get across the excitement, energy and enjoyment of the brand. We have also launched an app that features a virtual reality lap of the Nordschleife in the Falken Porsche. We are very keen to push into new areas that reflect Technology, Excitement and Lifestyle, and feel that it's something that is very attractive for our existing and potential OEMs.

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