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Falken Azenis FK510: Leaning on Liverpool FC



CAN Liverpool Football Club captain Jordan Henderson help a small Japanese tyre brand hit the big leagues? Falken Tire is hoping for just that, with a new flagship product and a little help from one of the most famous clubs in the English Premier League.

On July 1 the brand's distributor Stamford Tyres launched the Azenis FK510 in Singapore, a new Falken product designed to compete with tyres that fussy driving enthusiasts swear by, such as the Pirelli P Zero or Goodyear Eagle F1.

At the event, Falken parent Sumitomo Rubber unveiled a plan to redefine the brand as a youthful, high-tech challenger to the old giants of the industry, like Bridgestone and Michelin.

Part of that plan involved tying up with Liverpool. Falken became the 126-year-old team's official tyre partner a year ago, in a bid to raise its profile among an estimated 771 million worldwide fans of the club.

It could use the help in markets such as the USA and Europe, where its market share is around two per cent. But nowhere does Falken have a bigger slice of the tyre market than here.

Satoru Ushida, managing director of Sumitomo Rubber Asia, estimates that the brand commands at least 10 per cent of the Singapore market.

He credited that success to mainboard-listed Stamford Tyres. "Our relationship with them goes back more than 40 years," he told The Business Times. "They push the Falken brand in the market very strongly."

Yet, its new flagship tyre is aimed at people who drive powerful cars, and who are likely to be choosy about tyres. "Such drivers would like to have good cornering with high stability, and also good grip on both wet and dry roads," said Mr Ushida.

Why should such drivers choose Falkens over something with stronger brand heritage? Precisely because they want the performance, said Mr Ushida.

"We have more advanced technology in the tyres," he told BT. "We have evidence of that because we already have good results in European car magazines."

Mr Ushida cited a comparison test from Auto, Motor und Sport, an influential German car magazine, that placed the Azenis FK510 second in a test of 52 tyres. The winner? Michelin's Pilot Sport 4. But the new Azenis did beat established high-performance products from Pirelli, Goodyear and other tyre giants.

The new tyre has performed well in other tests, too. GTÜ (Gesellschaft für Technische Überwachung), a German car inspection company, ranked the Falkens first in its own test of 11 different tyre models.

Similar independent tests have placed the new Azenis in the top three, suggesting that the tyre is at least as good as the industry's best.

Given the FK510's ability to finish so high up the rankings, perhaps Liverpool would do well to emulate its sponsor, rather than the other way around.

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