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Yokohama expands European customer base

By Matthew Beecham | 23 May 2018

Tetsuo Ikegami

Tetsuo Ikegami

Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews with tyre makers, we spoke to Tetsuo Ikegami, Manager, Yokohama Rubber about the trends in the European tyre market, new products and smart tyres. A spokesman for Yokohama also contributed to this Q&A.

What challenges is the European tyre industry currently facing?

Yokohama spokesman: The European tyre industry is facing several challenges.

On the technological side, the trend towards electric cars continues to grow. This has an impact on all players within the tyre industry. This is especially so in Europe due to its well-established regulations. We have to ensure that we can continue to develop tyres which not only conform to regulations but also meet the expectations of consumers. For example, with the increase in electric vehicles, noise reduction is an ongoing challenge. Such cars have a very significant noise reduction. Yokohama has, therefore, developed and launched a low noise product for use in some markets such as the ADVAN dB V552. This offers a noise control performance thanks to the latest Yokohama technology which assists in a much quieter ride.

This is one of our challenges. Sometimes the balance of expectations and performance is not so simple to achieve but our focus is on quality, safety and manufacturing premium quality tyres. So we will work on all these areas to continue improving.

We are confident that all challenges present opportunities, and for us the premium quality demand for tyres will remain a focus.

In terms of our corporate responsibility, we continue to move towards more environmental practices in manufacturing. Yokohama Rubber has had a long-standing commitment towards environmental practices in manufacturing and this forms an essential focus of our target which is to produce products which are beneficial to society.  We are taking great care of this matter for many years now, and will continue to do so, as part of our corporate commitment.

Technology and innovation is also a continuous challenge for us.  We are aiming to make more fuel saving tyres and tyres which reduce overall environmental impact in areas of noise, (pass by noise) energy efficiency and consumption.  Lighter tyres are also going to reduce the impact on the environment and car performance and we are also developing this area too, within our R&D centres in Japan and test centres around the world.

Can you tell us a little more about Yokohama and what the brand is currently up to?

Yokohama spokesman: As a company we celebrated our centennial last year.  We have gained a lot of knowhow and expertise over this time and it is fair that we should pass the benefits to our customers and society as a whole. Over the past years, we focused on the globalisation of our company and our aim to reach out to more people, more markets.

Two years ago we also became shirt partner and began to work closely with Chelsea FC to increase our global appeal and brand awareness.  We continue to work actively on this relationship and strengthen our brand.

In terms of our premium quality, this year we have obtained Original Equipment approval from BMW for the prestigious M5 with our flagship tyre the ADVAN Sport V105. Yokohama is proud of its technological achievements and in this year we have also added significant OE fitments with leading car manufacturers including BMW with fitment approvals for the BMW X3, incorporating Yokohama's run-flat tyre technology with the ADVAN Sport ZPS. Runflat tyres include special technology to allow the tyre to operate at reduced speeds and distances with zero inflation pressure.

Our next mid-term plan will take us to 2020. From now until then we will work continuously on three main areas:

1. To expand our presence in premium tyre markets, with our strengths, high-end quality and technologically advanced products

2. With a particular focus on winter tyres, we aim to assert our leadership in Japan, Europe and Russia in this segment and

3. We are working to build leadership in the 'Hobby tyres' segment. We define the 'hobby' tyres as Racing tyres, Rally tyres, Off-road tyres and Classic car tyres.

Yokohama is committed to improve the line-up to meet every drivers needs in these segments. For example with the forthcoming introduction of the A008P, the classic car Porsche fraternity will be able to enjoy the original fitment of the late 1980s, with new performances and today's improved technology, whilst keeping the classic look. We presented our prototype of this model at the Geneva motor show last year and we are now moving ahead further with the project to bring it to the market.

Yokohama used the most recent Geneva motor show to launch its BluEarth-4S AW21. Will Yokohama debut more tyres this year?

Yokohama spokesman: We usually choose the Geneva international motor show as a showcase of our technology and to launch our latest products.  In addition to the world premiere of the new Yokohama all-season tyre BluEarth-4S AW21, which offers excellent year-round performance with enhanced snow and Ice grip, outstanding wet performance and long mileage we also took the opportunity to launch two European premiere which actually follow our intentions within our mid-term plan.  We launched the iceGuard IG60 studless tyre for Nordic winter, with very advanced and unique compound technology that achieves extreme ice friction without studs and water absorbing compound. The benefits which are exceptional ice grip, wet grip, long-life grip and fuel saving.

In Geneva we also launched as a European premiere the Geolandar M/T G003, for SUV and 4x4, with an aggressive and very dynamic design with amazing Off-Road traction, and also offers outstanding mileage performance. This exceptional tyre also keeps comfort and lower noise and testament of its strong performance is the fantastic result obtained by a Spanish team who took part in the Dakar Rally earlier this year fitted with the G003, with splendid results.

What will the tyre material of tomorrow look like? Will new polymers have a role to play?

Tetsuo Ikegami: Yes, new polymers have a big influence and affect tyre performance. We think new polymers are playing an important role to achieve the required tyre performance.

What is the key to a good tyre tread?

Tetsuo Ikegami: Tread pattern that combines high drainage and noise suppression. A tread compound that combines high wet grip and low rolling resistance. Furthermore, it is important to ensure improved contact between the tread and the road surface to enhance performance.

How do you see the further roll-out of the run-flats amongst car segments in Europe?

Tetsuo Ikegami: In overseas regions including Europe, we began to release a runflat size for our global flagship tyre ADVAN SPORT V105 in the second half of last year. By increasing the runflat sizes, we are able to meet the requests from premium cars and a wide range of car models.

We hear talk of the "intelligent tyre" as vehicles change. With newer forms of propulsion, in what ways will the tyre change and adapt to such technology? And what are the challenges in designing tyres for EVs?

Tetsuo Ikegami: Tyres also need to keep up with the evolution and changes in cars and technology. It is becoming increasingly important to provide a safer and more comfortable driving experience and environment than ever, so we would like to expand this through our tyres. Tyres are the only car parts that make contact with the road surface. We think that it is key to use this fact, as an advantage and make the most of it.

In relation to EVs, it is now a task to reduce power consumption (reduce rolling resistance) and reduce generated noise while maintaining and improving on the tyre's overall performance.

To what extent has tyre labelling given Yokohama an opportunity to further innovate and differentiate itself from the competition?

Tetsuo Ikegami: Tyre labelling has given us an opportunity to not only meet the requirement of labelling but to improve further overall performance of the tyres. To this end, we have made improvements not only in compound development and tyre design but also in production processing technology.