The Geumsan Plant in Daejeon
The Geumsan Plant in Daejeon. Click image to enlarge
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Hankook Tire Canada

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Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

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A visit to Hankook Tire in Korea

Seoul and Daejeon, South Korea – Although it’s not as well-known in Canada as some of its competitors, Hankook Tire has plans to change that. Currently the seventh-largest tire manufacturer in the world by sales, the Korean-based company plans on moving up to become the fifth-largest by 2014. Early in June, Hankook gave a group of writers access to its manufacturing and R&D facilities in Korea, including a wet test track that’s one of only a handful worldwide.

While it’s a relative newcomer to North America – Hankook Tire America was established in 1981 – the company dates back to 1941, when it was founded as Korea’s first tire manufacturer (initially, as a subsidiary of Japanese tire manufacturer Bridgestone, followed by a complicated series of sales and acquisitions into an independent company). It survived the tumultuous years of the Korean War, and now has 29 global operations, approximately 14,000 employees worldwide, and production plants in Korea, China and Hungary. By production volume, it operates both the largest and second-largest tire plants in the world; these two Korean facilities produced a combined 44 million tires in 2009, and are expected to produce 47 million in 2012. It has R&D facilities in Korea, Germany, China, Japan and the U.S., and its products are delivered through 80 overseas subsidiaries, branch offices and warehouses. It makes everything from ultra-high-performance racing tires to those for tractor-trailers and buses, and has been an original equipment (OE) supplier to Audi since 2008. And right now, it wants to get to know you better.

Seung Hwa Suh, vice-chairman and CEO of Hankook Tire
Seung Hwa Suh, vice-chairman and CEO of Hankook Tire. Click image to enlarge

“Twenty years ago, it was very difficult to introduce (Korean products) in the market,” said Sueng Hwa Suh, vice-chairman and CEO. “Now, not only Hankook but other Korean products like Samsung, Hyundai and LG are better known all over the world. We are doing our best to improve the quality of the product and also the services to our customers all over the world. Our vision is to become a leading tire company in the world. Many people think we are chasing growth and increasing production capacity and revenue, but when I say leading, I mean not only the size of the company, but also the quality of Hankook products and services.”

Hankook’s tire lines include Ventus high-performance, Optimo all-season, Mileage Plus and Radial H714 all-seasons for passenger cars, the Dynapro line for SUVs and light trucks, winter offerings I*Pike and Icebear (which will be replaced with the new I*cept Evo), and the Optimo 4S, which the company calls an “all-weather” rather than an “all-season.” Available exclusively in Canada through OK Tire, it was designed primarily for British Columbia, where it has enough bite to take drivers to the ski hills, but has longer tread wear on warmer asphalt in summer. It also has a high enough snow rating to pass Quebec’s mandatory winter tire requirement without needing to be changed for warm-weather use.

In Daejeon, about 165 kilometres south of Seoul, our first stop was the company’s main R&D centre. It was established in 1982 and, along with an R&D centre in Akron, Ohio and technical centres in China and Japan, develops and tests tires for local and many overseas markets. Due to different standards for Europe, tires intended for that audience are developed specifically in Hanover, Germany. The 52,000-square-metre Korean centre employs about 600 people.

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