With the COVID pandemic a lingering bad memory, Yokohama Tire is setting its sights on putting a final few lingering supply chain issues to bed and looking firmly toward the future. Those insights – and others – concerning the current and future state of the commercial tire were offered by Jeff Barna, president and CEO of Yokohama Tire, and Stan Chandgie, executive vice president of sales, at the 10th Anniversary ceremonies for its West Point, Mississippi, commercial truck tire plant.
Both Barna and Chandgie said that a variety of factors are coming together now to give Yokohama a unique competitive edge in the commercial truck tire market. And they, said, that will be critical given the dynamic changes coming to the market in the very near future.
A Tire Building Balancing Act
Barna began putting the West Point, Mississippi manufacturing plant’s recent successes into perspective, citing a changing of the culture as key to its performance today. “This plant’s primary mission is to feed the North American commercial tire market for our dealers and to foster further growth in that market,” Barna explained. “And we knew our primary customer – our dealers – were being underserved. There was more market available to use out there than our dealers could get their hands on. We needed to be more flexible. We needed more authority to act here in North America. In short, we need to be a more ‘American’ manufacturing plant.”
Key to making those changes was bringing Phillip Calhoun in as a new plant manager, Barna added, and convincing Yokohama executives in Japan to trust his plan. “What we’re doing at this plant now is very counterintuitive for the Japanese corporate mentality,” he said. “But now, two years later, we’ve made historic gains at this plant. Our employee engagement and morale are up. And West Point is now the highest-performing Yokohama manufacturing plant worldwide.”
The current challenge for Yokohama commercial tires in North America is performing a balancing act to maintain current levels of quality and service with the demands of a market that will soon undergo massive changes.
“I can’t think of an industry that is more dynamic than commercial truck tires today,” Barna said. “It’s a really challenging environment. We have to decide today where to place our bets for tomorrow.”
While all the talk is centered on new technology – electric trucks in particular – Barna noted that 96% of Yokohama’s fleet customers are hungry for a better long-haul tire that will be safer, quieter and last longer in service. “Ten years ago, that was an easy business investment,” he said. “But now, you have all this investment money in the same pot, and you somehow divvy up those funds so you can address your preexisting customers and their tire needs. But you also have to address all of these emerging technologies. If you invest too heavily in the future, and take your eye off the here and now, you’ll lose out. And vice-versa. So we’re going to have to make some very key decisions over the next three to five years that will determine how we’re going to move forward on those fronts.”
Yokohama as a company is relatively risk adverse, Barna added. “We are the tortoise in the technology race,” he said. “And that’s a badge we wear comfortably. But just talking now about all of these new technologies does not guarantee you a seat at the table when they finally arrive. We will watch the market closely and learn from any mistakes we see. But we will be in the discussion moving forward and be participating in the next chapter for North American trucking.”
Specialized Tires for Specialized Trucks
Stan Chandgie built on Barna’s remarks, noting that the quality of tires produced in West Point has strengthen Yokohama’s position in the North American truck market. “Our products perform extremely well,” he said. “We give our dealer network and fleet customers extreme, cradle-to-grave value in everything from overall performance to our retread-friendly tire casings, which can deliver multiple lives of service. And our Mississippi manufacturing plant has been a huge part of that.”
Changdie said that while some Yokohama dealers are still experiencing lingering supply chain issues, most of those have been worked out and the company is now focusing on the near- and long-term future for trucking. “We’re actively expanding our dealer network across the country, but particularly in the Pacific Northwest and the Western half of the U.S.,” he said.
Some of that expansion will come via acquisitions, Changdie added. And others will be the results of strategic partnerships. “Our tire product quality is right where it needs to be,” he said. “What we need now are more good dealer partners around North America. And we need them to be strong, healthy and able to grow. It’s our job to stay close to them, to be flexible to their needs, and give them the products that, in turn, give them the pull-through they need to service their customers.”
The other future aspect Changdie noted was also a point made Barna, the rapidly evolving truck tire market today. “In the future, I think we’re going to see a need for highly specialized tires for a variety of different trucks – not just applications,” he said. “Yokohama is launching a global EV tire for passenger cars next year. And I think that sort of tells us where truck tires are headed.”
As an example, Changdie pointed to electric trucks, which, thanks to range limitations, will likely run fewer miles over a longer period of time than similar tires on diesel trucks do today. “But then think about autonomous trucks,” he said. “It’s very likely they’ll put twice, or even triple the miles on their tires, in half the time, that we see in long-haul applications today. So there are going to be a lot of different stresses and demands put on trucks tires in the very near future. I don’t think it is out of the question that soon, tire manufacturers may have to build a tire for autonomous trucks, another tire for trucks with human drivers, and still another for electric trucks. So it’s going to a pretty wide open future in industry with lots of changes coming.”