Can you please give us some background information about yourself and the factors that prompted you to take up a career in the tire industry?
I was born into the Kenda family, so there was not much choice. It was pretty natural for me to grow up and follow my father’s footsteps by joining the family business. I joined the company right after I finished graduate school in New York for my MBA degree. I set up a company called Kenstone Co., Inc. to oversee sales and marketing for Kenda in North America, Kenstone later became a wholly owned subsidiary of Kenda and the name was changed to American Kenda Rubber Ind., Ltd. (Kenda USA)
Can you give us a brief overview of Kenda and how it came to be one of the leading tire brands in the world?
Kenda was established by my father, Mr. Chin-Pao Yang in 1962. As a small tire manufacturer, he started by producing tires and tubes for bicycles and later expanded the product line to include tires and tubes for motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, trailers, agricultural machines, material handling equipment, golf carts and finally passenger cars and light trucks. Through his leadership, vision, hard work, Kenda has expanded its manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and America with over 12,000 very dedicated employees working to produce tires and tubes of the best quality in the world. The Kenda brand has become one of the most recognized brands in the world in several areas through our aggressive marketing and promotion!
What is the biggest challenge that Kenda faces from the marketing perspective at the global level?
The biggest challenge Kenda faces today is to continue to raise brand awareness in the world. Despite a very aggressive marketing approach and budget, the Kenda brand still has not attained the level where we would like it to reach. The consumer resistance to the “Made in China” tag has made it difficult to increase sales in certain regions including the Middle East. Therefore, we have set up new production facilities outside China to service these markets.
How important are OE fitments for Kenda and how do OE fitments help to boost business?
OE business enhances consumer awareness and increases the demand for tires in the replacement market. It is highly likely, that consumers will ask for the same brand of tires on their vehicle when they need to replace old tires. The technical demands to get an OE fitment are very strict which will push Kenda engineering capability higher in order to earn the OEM business opportunity. Kenda has already achieved considerable success in the Chinese OE market with a number of OE fitments. We are looking forward to expand our range of OE fitments and become tire vendor to tier one automotive companies in the world.
Kenda recently came up with a “Focus on Europe” strategy. What are the key factors needed to achieve success in the European market?
The reason for the “Focus on Europe” initiative is to reinforce our marketing effort for the European market. Kenda traditionally has been much stronger in North America and Asia with a lower market share in Europe, which is one of the main markets in the world. In order to gain the approval of highly knowledgeable European consumers, Kenda needs to raise its product performance up to the European standards. We now have engineers in North America and Europe helping in this regard and are making very good progress. Our recently reengineered tire, KR41 has been compared favorably in third party tests against some of the top tire brands in the world!
When it comes to the Middle East market, what kind of customers are you targeting?
KENDA always targets long-term business partners, by offering a variety of strategic partnerships ranging from value added benefits, promotional campaigns, strategic or revenue generating partners. Kenda is looking to work with distributors who are loyal, committed and focused on selling our brand as their flagship brand.
How important is the Middle East market to Kenda? How different is the Middle East market from other key global markets?
The Middle-East market is very important for Kenda as it accounts for 10 percent of Kenda’s total global sales. The Middle East is a region which is rich in oil and consumers have strong spending power. Kenda has been working with several distributors in various countries and has enjoyed good success. The Kenda brand is widely accepted for its quality, performance and pricing!
The key features of the Middle-East market are its climate and religious culture: When compared to other markets, the weather in the Middle-East is very hot. Hence, the tires sold here should be highly durable, have the capacity to withstand these climatic extremes and provide customers with plenty of mileage. People in the Middle East are known for their hospitality. Every time we visit the Middle East, we are impressed by the passion of local dealers. They prefer to conduct business by establishing personal relationships with us. They like to chat and prefer to exchange ideas through face to face conversations rather than through Email or Social media, thus giving business a “human” touch.
Customers in the Middle East are highly price conscious and have a wide range of tires from different countries to choose from. How has this affected your marketing strategy?
We have focused heavily on marketing, especially in the U.A.E to differentiate our brand from some of the low cost brands. We sponsor the drifting racer, Danny Neville with drifting tires to promote brand value, we advertise on big billboards at prominent locations for maximum exposure, and we also hold several seminars for new products all around the Middle East.
When it comes to research and development, we keep developing new tire patterns to stay ahead of the market trend. In the past two years, Kenda has established the North American Technical Center (KATC) and European Technical Center (KETC) to go along with the Taiwan Research And Dvelopment Center using modern technology and equipment to shorten our product development time and to enhance our product performance.
KENDA is keen to jump out of the circle of price war. We carry out all the mentioned activities to build up our “brand value” against other low-end competitors.
What technological innovations has Kenda come up with as an outcome of research and development? Can you tell us a little more about Kenda’s facilities for technological research and your investment in this direction?
Kenda invested heavily in our new technical centers by adding modern equipment, software, laboratory and many other instruments. More importantly, we invest a lot on our people and have added many experienced engineers who have worked for years with major tire companies. As an outcome of this investment, the length of our new tire development cycle is now shorter and the prducts developed by the new engineering teams now meet and even exceed the performance expectations of the market.
Norms regarding tire quality, fuel economy and environmental emissions have become increasingly stringent, especially in the Middle East and markets like the European Union and North America. How has such norms affected your product range and the tire development process?
Part of our investment in technology is to anticipate the stricter norms with regard to all these aspects and develop the capability to meet the stringent government regulations. Our version of Eco tire was able to reach the low rolling resistance required by most car manufactures, and offers very good gas mileage on par with the world’s leading brands. Our new high performance tire, KR41 has been tested and rated very favorably in terms of rolling resistance, gas mileage and road handling, both on dry and wet surfaces.
How do Kenda tires fare against tires from other brands when it comes to meeting such norms?
Kenda constantly develops products to satisfy different needs from different areas. We keep upgrading our equipment, machinery and even development procedures. Recently we launched a new product KR41, which performed well in tests by Test World Magazine, Germany.
Which companies do you consider as your main competitors in the Middle East market? What differentiates Kenda’s tires from these brands?
Kenda sees Nexen and Hankook, both from Korea as major competitors. It is our goal to match their strength in the market by offering Tier 2 performance at Tier 3 value price products. Kenda will be increasing its production footprint in 2018 and has built a very strong distribution and retail network. We will continue launching new products and to provide wilder selection in all areas to grow our market share.
What are Kenda’s plans for the region in the short-term and the long-term?
Kenda will continue its strong efforts to increase its market share in this region. In the short term, we will utilize our strong technical capability to develop quality products to meet the market demand at a price, which fits local acceptance. In the long term, Kenda will work with major OEMs to gain more fitments to boost its brand awareness and to increase aftermarket demand. This will complement our aggressive marketing approach to increase brand awareness! There is always the possibility that Kenda may have some manufacturing facility in the region down the road to service the local market!
How important are sports partnerships for Kenda? Can you tell us more about your marketing activities in this region?
We have several sports partnerships in the United States with renowned teams like the baseball team Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets basketball teams and the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team. In Italy, we have partnered with football Lega Serie A. When it comes to bike racing, we have joined hands with the Cofidis pro cycling team. We sponsor several lady professional golfers in both Japan and the US. We support the Taiwanese professional Baseball league – UniLion. Coming to motosports and, we have partnered with the World Challenge Class, American TORC, American Formula and of course Dany Neville here.
When it comes to your distribution partners, which company is your distribution partner in UAE and what kind of support do you give to your distribution partner?
Kenda has been collaborating with Varga Trading Company for over 25 years. We share the same core values and that is to work together and grow together. With this kind of cooperation, we have grown our business and market share tremendously. We are looking forward to continued success and growth in the years to come!
Autonomous and electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular. Does Kenda have any tires that are suitable for these segments?
Kenda is keeping a close eye on this ever-growing market and will utilize our modern technology to come out with suitable tires, which will offer all the required benefit to meet the criteria for this new segment of vehicles.
If you had the chance to convey one message to our readers, what would that be?
With the company philosophy of Honesty, Quality, Innovation and Service, Kenda has established its reputation as a trustworthy company which always builds quality products for the consumer. The safety of our consumers is our top concern and we expect everyone to have a fun and safe journey each time they use Kenda tires, iirespective of whether meant for bicycles, motorcycles or cars!
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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