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Japan firm Rays sees itself as the Louis Vuitton of car wheels

The finest wheels from Japanese engineering company Rays can cost three times as much as the norm.

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"Many of our customers may tune up and improve their cars' performance, and many of them also go to the race track. We provide wheels that they can feel they depend on, and can feel safe with." - Mr Mine, on Rays wheels which fit mainstream, luxury and high-performance cars.

Singapore

WHEELS are round, metal things that, when combined with tyres, enable a car to move.

But to Japanese wheel-making company Rays, describing its products that way is like saying a Rolex is just for telling the time.

"Honestly, our wheels are not cheap, and that's because Rays is aimed at the high-end market," Shigeru Mine, the chief operating officer and President of Rays, told The Business Times.

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Rays, together with mainboard-listed Stamford Tyres (its sole distributor for Singapore and Malaysia), launched its latest range of wheels here on Oct 1, with more than 20 new designs that range from wheels for luxury cars, sports cars, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

Asked what brands hold a similar premium position in their own realms, Mr Mine didn't hold back. Rays, he said, is like Louis Vuitton and Lexus.

Mr Mine is keen to emphasise the difference between his company's wheels and mass market products, the vast majority of which are made in China.

Rays wheels are made solely in Japan and in smaller quantities, Mr Mine said. That gives the company various advantages. It has its own specialised techniques for casting and forging metal, advanced design processes that include finite element analysis and computer simulation, as well as high-grade raw materials and improved quality control.

Rays validates its approach the old-fashioned way. It goes racing. Its wheels have been in everything from Formula Drift to Formula One, which is regarded as the pinnacle of motor sports.

Mr Mine is particularly proud of the fact that Rays designed the exotic magnesium alloy wheels for Toyota's TS050 Hybrid, which won the 24 Hours Of LeMans endurance race this year in June.

While Rays makes wheels to fit mainstream, luxury and high-performance cars alike, a typical Rays wheel costs two or three times more than a similarly sized, mass market product. Some of its larger, higher performance or more intricately designed items can cost S$1,000 per wheel, or more.

But its customers know the difference, and are willing to pay for what they think is the best, Mr Mine said. In another comparison with Lexus, Rays has banked not just on delivering a premium product with high performance, but with dependability, too.

"Many of our customers may tune up and improve their cars' performance, and many of them also go to the racetrack," Mr Mine said. "We provide wheels that they can feel they depend on, and can feel safe with."