TYRES: Westlake Tyres

By: Sean Muir

Westlake Tyres’ rubber is making its mark in Australia

TYRES: Westlake Tyres
Hamilton Tyre and Rubber

There is a lot to be said for being upfront, especially when you are talking about something that can mean the difference between a driver staying on the road or ending up in a ditch.

Chinese-made Westlake Tyres’ national distributor, Hamilton Tyre and Rubber (HTR) CEO Charles Millard is confident it won’t be long before the mid-range brand is up there with the elite.

Well aware of the stigma that comes with Chinese products – often seen as cheap and inferior – Millard says Westlake is already breaking down stereotypes associated with Chinese manufacturing.

The product competes with the likes of Bridgestone, Michelin, Continental or Goodyear.

"The Chinese want to be up the top – don’t worry about that," Millard says.

"And if they want to be in the top five then, let me tell you, they will have to up their price."

Westlake Tyres are manufactured by Chinese company Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co, founded in 1958.

The company is one of the largest and fastest growing manufacturers of passenger tyres, light truck tyres, SUV tyres, truck and bus radial tyres, industrial tyres and rubber products in China.

Westlake is now ranked the top tyre manufacturer in China and was recently reported as being number 10 world-wide, with an annual sales revenue of AU$3.09 billion.

"Back in 1998, their range wasn’t very diverse, but over the years they have expanded their range – to get to number 10 in the world, you are huge," Millard says.

Millard says more operators are now opting for the higher-quality Chinese-made tyres, as the Chinese tyre market splits into two distinct segments based on price and quality.

Although many products coming out of China are still substandard, there are companies such as Westlake starting to produce higher quality, more reliable tyres.

"If your tyres are at the bottom of the market, it is highly likely they will have recycled rubber in them and they will normally be lighter," Millard says.

Regarding weight and materials, Westlake Tyres are more comparable to the industry’s premium tyres than ever before.

According to Millard, if you weigh a Bridgestone tyre and Westlake tyre, they will be within a few kilos of each other, while the cheaper Chinese or Indian tyres will weigh much less.

"You’ll have a look at a tyre that is quite cheap and it is quite thin, but then you’ll put it beside a Westlake and it is wider and heavier."

However, there are areas where the top performing tyres in the market are still way ahead of the pack, with more research and development resources, and better service capabilities.

"We offer value for money – CPK, cost per kilometre – but a lot of fleets, through the network of servicing stores, will go with the Pirellis and Continentals – those brands are the pinnacle," Millard says.

"They have bigger research departments and they are the first on the market with new products and it takes the Kumhos and the Westlakes a bit longer to develop."

The lack of service capabilities for trucks using Westlake Tyres around the country is still a major obstacle for many operators, especially larger companies.

But Millard says servicing is an area the company plans to improve on in future, once its brand is more established in the market.

"First you push your product out into the marketplace – you get the consumer asking for it through the dealer – and then from there you deal with your network," he says.

Millard says the industry can expect to see more Chinese tyres advertised in magazines in future, as Westlake strives to assert itself as a top manufacturer.

"It may be another 10 years before we see that, but they want their product out there, they want their price to increase and their market share to increase,"

"They have evolved in the past seven years. There is more diversity in the range and quality. Yes, there are still operators out there who say, ‘I don’t care, I will run whatever on my vehicle, I’m doing it tough’, but all the major, commercial fleets, look at cost per kilometre, they look at the quality of the tyre they run."

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