Hankook plans to bring fuel-saving tire to North America

SEOUL — Hankook Tire Co. will sell a fuel-saving tire in North America.

The tire is sold in South Korea as Enfren, for environmentally friendly. Hankook says Enfren cuts rolling resistance by 21 percent and improves fuel economy by at least 2 percent.

Low-rolling-resistance tires glide more easily across the road thanks to less weight, specialized tread patterns and tweaked chemical compounds. This leads to better fuel economy.

Hankook is moving toward lighter, more environmentally friendly tires for all markets and segments, says Global CEO Suh Seung-hwa. The company, facing rising raw material costs, wants lighter tires that contain fewer materials. Customers, both consumers and automakers, want tires that save fuel.

Tricky tradeoff

But it’s tricky.

“The important thing in rolling resistance,” says Suh, is that “we should have at the same time good grip. If you brake the car, it should stop.”

An engineer can lower the depth of tread grooves to reduce resistance — but grip of the road surface also is reduced, says Gim Gwang-heon, executive vice president of r&d. So engineers prefer steps other than more shallow treads. “That comes last,” Gim says.

Hankook plows 5 percent of annual revenue into r&d. On 2007 sales of 3.59 trillion won, or $2.88 billion at current exchange rates, that r&d spending comes to $144 million.

In June, Hankook approved a $19 million annual increase in spending for environmental research. The company’s goal is to reduce rolling resistance by 10 percent in the short term and 30 percent in five to 10 years.

Much of the technology has been around for a while, Hankook executives said at a media event last month at company headquarters. Hankook’s first crack at a fuel-efficient tire came eight years ago in Korea, but consumers didn’t want it, says Lee Soo-il, vice president of marketing.

Lower, but at higher price

Lower rolling resistance means higher prices. In Korea, Enfren sells at a 6 percent premium over Hankook’s standard passenger-car tire.

Still, better-than-expected sales here have prompted Hankook to expand the Enfren lineup from three sizes to 14 by the end of this year, Lee says.

Hankook supplies many automakers, but so far Enfren seems to be an aftermarket-only tire.

The tire will arrive in North America late next year or early in 2010, Lee says.

Hankook may want to step on it. Bridgestone Corp. began selling its new Ecopia line of fuel-saving tires in Japan this year and plans to sell them in North America and Europe next year, according to Tire Business, a sister publication of Automotive News.

Enfren enumerated
Hankook Tire’s Enfren — for environmentally friendly — tire offers less rolling resistance, which improves fuel economy. Here are the tire’s numbers.
• Cuts rolling resistance by 21%
• Improves fuel economy by 2%
• Costs 6% more than regular tires
Source: Hankook Tire

Oct. 20, 2008 | Automotive News