Hankook Tire to set up plant in U.S. to boost its sales

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- Hankook Tire Co., South Korea's largest tire maker, will set up a plant in the United States to boost its presence in the world's largest tire market, a top official said Monday.

Suh Seung-hwa, vice chairman and CEO of Hankook Tire, said his company is considering Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as candidate locales for the plant.

"We are weighing" the three southern states, Suh said in a news conference at a Seoul hotel, adding that the company will make a final decision by the end of this year.

Suh said the proposed plant, which could have an annual production capacity of around 10 million units, is designed to boost his company's market share in the U.S. from the current 5 percent.

The comment came three days after Kumho Tire Co., South Korea's second-biggest tire maker, announced its plan to complete construction of its suspended plant in Georgia.

Kumho Tire broke ground for its first plant in Georgia in 2009, but the project has since been stalled as creditors placed the company under a debt workout scheme to help its parent group ease a liquidity squeeze.

Still, Kumho Tire did not give a specific time frame as to when it will resume construction of the plant.

The recent moves come amid a possibility that South Korea's largest carmaker Hyundai Motor Co. and its smaller sister company Kia Motors Corp. could expand assembly lines in Alabama and Georgia, respectively.

Hyundai and Kia, which together form the world's fifth-largest carmaker, each have an annual production capacity of 360,000 units in the U.S.

Also on Monday, Hankook Tire said it has been supplying original equipment tires for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class since June as part of its first contract with German Daimler AG.

"The deal means that we became a company whose quality has been recognized in the world's tire market," Suh said.

Hankook Tire, the world's seventh-largest tire maker by sales, has already been supplying original equipment tires to BMW and Audi, the other two premium German automakers, as well as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co.

Hankook Tire said it has a combined annual production capacity of about 94 million tires in its plants in South Korea, China, Indonesia and Hungary and ships its products to 180 countries around the world.

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