The story of Hankook tyres

  • Author: OPONEO.CO.UK

The world’s seventh largest car tyre manufacturer, Hankook are also the oldest and largest producer of Korean tyres. Over 50 years since its foundation, Hankook’s bosses still follow the founders’ original motto - “the road must be precisely planned in order to reach full satisfaction.”

The Start Of Hankook Tyres

Although these words may sound like a direct quote from Sun Tzu’s famous work, The Art of War, they reflect the methodical way in which the Korean firm has functioned over the decades.


The company first began in 1941, when the Chosun Tyre industrial company was founded in Seoul. These were turbulent times for both the world and Korea, the latter of which was held under Japanese occupation at the time.

However, in the year before Korea regained its independence, the firm’s first factory in Yeongdeungpo had already began producing its first premier car tyres, under the initial Chosun brand.

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A Modern Hankook tyre facility, photo: Hankook

During the first decade, the whole enterprise was gradually built up from scratch, initially starting with machines and later expanding to include new technologies, qualified staff and a professional business strategy.

In the 1950s, the firm was developing at a satisfactory rate, taking advantage of the growing demand from the motor industry. In 1962, Chosen tyres were exported for the first time. This was originally only to the local Asian market, but it was nonetheless a further step highlighting the systematic progress that was being made.

Six years later, in 1968, the firm made its debut on the Korean stock exchange. It was at this time that the company changed from Chosen Tyre Industrial to Hankook Tyre Manufacturing. The new name was an excellent reference to the pedigree of the firm, which was then standing on the doorstep of global expansion. In the Korean language, Hankook simple means “South Korea”.

Expansion based on knowledge

For continued expansion to be possible, the firm needed to strengthen its foundations. Thus, in 1977, it opened a few factory in Incheon, followed by another plant in Daejeon in 1979. This was the world’s largest tyre production facility at the time.

Supported by three different production facilities, Hankook was able to boldly enter other markets, the results of which quickly became very visible. In 1980, the company marched past $100 million export sales. A year later, encouraged by these excellent figures, the firm decided to start a subsidiary in the United States. This is how the Hankook Tyre America Corporation was born.

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A modern testing facility, checking the tyre noise levels. Photo: Hankook.

Because of the firm’s belief that “the road must always be precisely planned”, in inseparable element of Hankook’s development was the broadening of its knowledge in relevant fields. For many years, the company has invested around 5% of its earnings into research programmes.

In 1982, the firm launched its first Central Research Institute in Daejeon and, a few months later, opened a research and development centre in the United States. This was called the Akron Technical Center and, as the name suggests, this was based in the Ohio town known as the tyre capital of the world. In addition to marking the company’s importance in the industry, this research facility was also the first such centre set up by a Korean firm on the other side of the ocean.

In the 1990s, Hankook turned its attention to China, setting up a new branch in Beijing, with factories in Jiaxing and Jiangsu, the latter of which was also home to a new research centre.

At the same time, another plant was built in Keumsan, Korea, in addition to a new research centre in Hannover, Germany, giving the company a strong foundation in Europe. As a result of this expanse in operations, the company passed another export sales barrier in 1995, reaching half a billion dollars.

One of the top seven

Hankook greeted the new millennium with the opening of a European distribution centre in Rotterdam. However, the most momentous event, from a strategic point of view, was the signing of an understanding with the Michelin tyre company in 2003.

As a result of this agreement, Hankook extended its sphere of influence by forming its first European subsidiary in France, following by further subsidiaries in Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Russia.

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Hankook also takes part in numerous rally motorsports. Source: Hankook.

In 2007, the firm sent out the first tyres from its newest plant in Hungary. This whole industrial site, which cost over 500 million euro to produce, makes a very powerful impression. It covers an area of more than 560,000 square metres (348 square miles) and, within just a few months, it was already producing 15,000 tyres a day, cultivating in around five million tyres a year. Thanks to this, the Korean firm quickly became the seventh largest tyre producer in the world.

Satisfaction can be greater - but it must be planned

In 2004, Hankook unveiled a new visual identity for its brand, led by the new slogan of “Driving Emotion”. A year later, it established technological collaborations with the German tuning firm Hamann Motorsport.

In recent years, the Korean company has become even more involved in motorsports. In the 2007-2009 seasons, Hankook supplied tyres for the IMSA Prototype Lites races, held in support of the American Le Mans Series, which the Korean brand also had a strong involvement with. It similarly supported the Asian Le Mans series, too.

Currently, Hankook has over 14,000 employees across its factories and centres, distributing tyres to 180 countries throughout the world. Approximately 70% of its income is generated by foreign sales.
 
Hankook tyres are also used as original equipment tyres by numerous car manufacturers, including Audi, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Renault, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.
 
This undoubtedly brings satisfaction to numerous drivers around the world but, as Hankook’s founders would be quick to point out, the satisfaction can always be greater. WIth Hankook, we can rest assured that the road to get there has already been planned.

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