Sumitomo Tires Review and Buyer’s Guide

Sumitomo Tires Review and Buyer’s Guide

Although Sumitomo is one of the biggest tire brands in the world, it doesn’t have the same name recognition as more famous counterparts like Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin. This is an intentional decision by the company, as the Japanese conglomerate owns a broad variety of diverse tire businesses, each one with a different brand name and a purpose. Using this strategy, it focuses less on marketing and more on bringing high-quality mid-range tires to consumers worldwide.

With this business model, the tire company has grown into the fifth-largest tire company in the world. Under its own brand name, it sells Sumitomo-labeled products with a philosophy of commitment to Japanese quality. The company sets itself apart by producing huge quantities of inexpensive, reliable rubber.

What Sets Sumitomo Apart?

Japanese Quality

Since its foundation in 1909, Sumitomo has upheld a company-wide cultural expectation of tremendous quality. As a Japanese company, Sumitomo has historically been able to take advantage of cheap production costs, helping grow the company as a value leader.

In the 1960s, as the reliability of American tires began to deteriorate due to rising costs of labor, Sumitomo was able to continue producing the same tires at a lower price. The industry imbalance allowed Sumitomo to expand rapidly, especially in more developed markets like Europe and America. With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Sumitomo has tight quality control restrictions in place, meaning that even though it manufactures primarily in Asia, the company is still able to produce reliable, high-caliber products.

Sumitomo in the Aftermarket

Sumitomo is a brand that mostly focuses on selling aftermarket tires directly to consumers—the company sells very few models directly to automakers for installation on new cars. It caters its tire lineup to normal drivers who are generally more product- and price-conscious. These consumers aren’t looking for the best luxury performance or the cheapest mass-produced price, they’re looking for the best value for their personal needs.

To service the consumer market, Sumitomo creates the best possible option for consumers instead of manufacturing for big automotive conglomerates. Their tires are affordable but have consumer-friendly touches like easy installation and factory-warranties that individual buyers look for. What’s lost in this process is the specific car-to-tire compatibility that auto-manufacturers provide on their new vehicles. If you buy a factory-fit tire, most cars come with a product that is specifically developed to function optimally on that particular vehicle. With aftermarket tires, you lose some of that specificity.

The Sumitomo Way

Sumitomo’s initial founding can be traced back to the early 1600s when a Japanese man named Masatomo Sumitomo founded the first iteration of the company. The founder based his success on a series of “Founder’s Precepts,” which are still used as part of the company’s corporate governance today.

Although the principles were originally worded differently, they have now been adapted to three ideas: integrity, strong management, and innovation. The integrity of business practices is based on the concept that the company should always pursue the creation of exceptional products.

The idea of strong management refers to how the management chain should be linked, and that a clear hierarchy is necessary to create a successful business culture. Innovation draws on the Japanese “igeta” symbol, which is a symbol based on a water well. This well signifies that ideas are what nourish a company. From the igeta symbol comes the Sumitomo principle that innovation is what truly creates growth.

Sumitomo’s Price Range

Sumitomo has an uncommonly tight price range, with most tires coming in at around $100. High-performance models like the HTR Z series can touch $150 per tire, which is affordable for a racing tire. The cheapest models for sale are all-season passenger offerings, which cost around $75, with some pricing variation on size.

Sumitomo Design Features

Sumitomo Comfort-Ride

In pursuit of an up-market product, Sumitomo recognizes the need for comfort in a tire that is truly a pleasure to drive. As a tire deteriorates over time, it can wear down unevenly at different parts of the tread. This worsens the performance of the tire and causes uncomfortable vibrations to be transmitted from the road.

Sumitomo optimizes the depths of the grooves in the tread pattern so that tires wear more evenly. By doing this, the tire remains circular over time, preventing irregular wear. Eliminating the unusual vibrations and noises that are often seen towards the end of a tire’s life expectancy enables the ride to remain comfortable and noise-free, even late into a tire’s life.

Nylon Cap Ply

Different manufacturers use different strategies to prevent punctures on a tire, the most common being the use of a steel belt to provide structure and resistance to foreign objects. Sumitomo takes the added step of placing a nylon cap between the steel belt and the rubber itself. This additional layer serves two purposes.

Firstly, the nylon cap offers secondary puncture resistance for nails, screws, and other road hazards. Flat-causing debris has a harder time punching through this extra layer of material. Secondly, the nylon layer makes the outer part of the tire more supple, which contributes to sharper handling, better traction, and quicker braking.

3D Wave Sipes

When a tire rolls along the road, it is constantly adjusting and moving as it contacts small surface imperfections in the road. When driving in the wet, this squirming can lead to sliding and poor braking. For this reason, tire manufacturers install tire sipes, which are small grooves in the rubber itself that help the tire stick to the road in rain and snow.

Sumitomo takes this technology to the next level by laser-engraving three-dimensional wave shapes on the surface of the rubber. This siping, in inclement weather, can improve stopping distances by 22 percent and increase rolling traction by 28 percent. This is one of the examples of a technology that Sumitomo has taken from mainstream tire manufacturers and further expanded on to make a superior product.
3d wave tire sipes

Sumitomo in the Tire Industry

Sumitomo is the fifth-biggest tire manufacturer in the world, but its business model is slightly different than most in the industry. Firstly, Sumitomo is split into several divisions, each producing tires for a different market. The biggest three companies—Goodyear, Bridgestone, and Michelin—each produce a full range of tires under their main brand. Sumitomo only produces about 20 models under the Sumitomo label.

The approach that the Japanese company takes is diversification of product lines. Sumitomo’s sub-brands Falken and Dunlop actually sell a larger volume of tires yearly than the Sumitomo house brand itself. Each brand has a slightly different niche, geographic focus, and brand philosophy. While the top companies put huge marketing dollars behind one large tire label, Sumitomo equally distributes its budget over all of its smaller brands.

Sumitomo’s factory label tires (Sumitomo tires labeled under the Sumitomo name) are unique in that they stick to a very specific price range. Almost every Sumitomo tire is available for between $75-$150, so all models sit in the low-to-mid-range category. Compared with Dunlop’s line, which offers some tires for less than $50, and Falken, which typically sells high-end racing tires, the Sumitomo line represents a middle ground.

A History of Sumitomo Tires

Sumitomo Rubber was founded in 1909 as a collaboration between Dunlop, a British tire manufacturer, and a large Japanese conglomerate. The company steadily chugged along for the first half of the century, providing tires mainly for the Japanese domestic market.

In the 1940s, as war broke out in Japan, the company was forced into military production on behalf of the army. During the war, the brand was run into the ground, with most of its facilities and production plants being destroyed during bombing raids.

As Japanese conglomerates were forced to disband under post-war anti-trust laws, Sumitomo Rubber became independent from its parent company. In the 1980s, to help internationalize, the company created a sub-brand, Falken, to help expand its American and European channels.

Falken, Dunlop, and the Sumitomo marque itself proved to be incredibly successful, and the brand’s international expansion thrived in the 1990s and beyond. The company continued to invest in technology and production, focusing on growth over profits. Sumitomo officially incorporated in Europe in 1992 and in the United States in 1999, setting the stage for a new phase of global expansion.

Now Sumitomo is the fifth largest tire manufacturer in the world, selling tires under its three main brands: Sumitomo, Dunlop, and Falken. The company has grown exponentially and is on track to continue finding success due to its intelligent expansion, investment, and growth strategies.

A Partnership with Goodyear

Sumitomo has always had an enormous presence on the Asian market, but the company has struggled to maintain a brand presence in the United States during various periods of time. To facilitate a large entry into the country in 1997, Goodyear and Sumitomo began a partnership to help expand both of the brands’ distribution networks.

Through this partnership, Goodyear helped pave the way for Sumitomo’s American entry, which was finally successful on a broad level due to Goodyear’s recommendation of investment in racing. By sponsoring local and professional racing, the Japanese company finally had gained a large-scale reputation, one that continues to attract American customers to this day.

Sumitomo Tires Warranty Information

Some of Sumitomo’s high-performance tires like the HTR Z series don’t have a treadwear warranty, but they do have a relatively long lifespan due to their harder-than-average rubber compound. Otherwise, most Sumitomo tires have warranties that are about average for the industry, with a low range of about 50,000 miles and a high range of about 65,000 miles. It’s nothing special, but for the generally low prices, it’s hard to complain. More on the mileage warranties can be seen here.

Sumitomo does lack two things in their warranty policy that other manufacturers are able to provide: the first is a roadside assistance program. Companies like Bridgestone and Michelin offer roadside assistance as a free service during the first two years of tire ownership, but Sumitomo just doesn’t have a big enough US footprint to provide the expensive service.

Secondly, there’s no trial period after a Sumitomo purchase. Other major manufacturers typically offer a grace period of 30 to 90 days, while Sumitomo simply doesn’t. For peace of mind it’s nice to have, so it’s a bummer that a company with a global supply chain like Sumitomo isn’t able to offer this grace period.

Sumitomo Gives Back

Sustainability

Sumitomo considers sustainability as a fundamental part of its business practices, and a healthy environment is essential for the company’s success going forward. To create a cleaner, more sustainable structure, Sumitomo engages in three main strategies to combat negative environmental impact.

  • Climate Change Action: The firm has performed a top-to-bottom product life cycle assessment aimed at reducing emissions and waste. This involves both green purchasing, which targets the use of sustainable material, as well as green logistics, which focuses on process efficiency improvements in the production and manufacturing of tires.
  • Legal Responsibilities: As governments become more and more strict on the environmental impact of businesses, Sumitomo pledges to not only abide by the environmental legislation already in place, but to also uphold and create stricter, more effective future legislation.
  • Continual Business Improvement: Sumitomo sets benchmarks that target the continuous reduction of harmful environmental activities. There is no final endpoint in mind for sustainability; the team has a philosophy of gradual and perpetual improvement.

Corporate Responsibility

Sumitomo considers corporate responsibility an intrinsic part of its continued success, understanding that true industry leadership goes beyond corporate profits. In the company’s outlining document, it expands on environmental leadership by discussing contributions to member communities and human rights.

Tire manufacturers have an unsavory history of exploiting cheap labor; Sumitomo incorporates respect for human safety and rights into their corporate doctrine. Sumitomo designs factories to be efficient for production as well as safe for humans, allowing workers to accomplish tasks without injury or undue difficulty. Their efficient facilities are greener and reward low waste production.

Finally, Sumitomo works within communities to help develop employees and their families. By facilitating conversations with workers and workers’ organizations, Sumitomo can develop sustainable business practices that both boost productivity and worker satisfaction. Safety, quality, and workmanship benefit all stakeholders involved.

Sumitomo and Auto Racing

Supercars Championship

The most popular form of auto racing in Australia is a grand-touring-style series of V8 road-based cars called the Supercars Championship. The series is very popular on the continent with an average attendance of well over 100,000 people. Race distances are up to 400 kilometers, and involve technically demanding road circuits.

The cars are modeled after road-going versions, so racing tires are actually quite similar to consumer versions. Sumitomo sponsors series superstar Will Davidson, who has racked up 7 major podiums during his long career. Close, intense racing leads to unique equipment demands, so the racing series is also a good development opportunity for Sumitomo as a manufacturer. With many performance tire enthusiasts in the country, Sumitomo has done well as a brand in Australia.

Falken

In the 1980s, Sumitomo launched Falken as an in-house performance brand designated to focus on high-performance tires. Up until then, Sumitomo had mainly emphasized the budget segment, but after extensive growth, the company was eager to cash in on bigger-ticket tires that were popular in the United States.

With Falken, Sumitomo threw sponsorship weight at a number of race series. Falken has participated in rallies like Paris-Dakar and Rally du Portugal, winning fans across continents in the process. Falken also participates in 24-hour racing at the Nurburgring. As a Japanese brand, Falken is a standby at big drift racing series across the world, with huge results in Japan, the United States, and Europe.

Dunlop

Dunlop started off as a partner of Sumitomo in 1909, but has since then been fully incorporated as a subsidiary of the Japanese company. Dunlop has a considerable motorsports heritage but ever since Sumitomo launched Falken as its performance brand, the subsidiary has slowed down its presence in racing.

Dunlop was an impressive racing brand in the early part of its history, winning over thirty 24 Hours of Le Mans titles. Even after such success, it didn’t stop its racing presence in Europe, and the company has won eight Formula One World Championships. The Sumitomo affiliate has also won major rallies, hill climbs, and circuit races.

Sumitomo’s Best Selling Tires

Sumitomo’s production range is lean but effective, doing away with an industry model that has historically chosen quantity over quality. Tires all come in around $100, and most broad categories only have one or two product offerings. Sumitomo is confident that each and every tire sold offers uncommon value and performance.

HTR Z Line

At the highest end of the performance and price spectrums lies the HTR Z line, a series of models that are quite utilitarian for being performance-oriented. Designed for sports cars, coupes, convertibles, and lighter performance sedans, the soft rubber and deep center grooves offer great grip and off-the-line traction. The only sacrifice appears to be the tire’s rain performance, which is less than stellar.

  • HTR Z III: The most expensive and fastest-speed-rated model is the HTR Z III, a tire that offers the same capability as more expensive tires for an impressively low price. Be aware that there is no treadwear warranty on these, although you can expect around 35,000 miles.
  • HTR Z5: The HTR Z5 brings some practical characteristics to the performance-forward line. The hard compound manages to be grippy and long-wearing. Make sure you’re aware that this tire isn’t meant for snowy or even cold conditions. If you’re planning on using these tires on a car you drive year-round, do yourself a favor and pick up a set of winter-dedicate tires.

HTR Enhance Line

A step down from the HTR Z line, the HTR Enhance line is a series of all-season tires oriented towards budget-conscious sedans and hatchbacks. As a grand touring model, performance is decent and treadwear is long; these tires are warrantied for a full 65,000 miles. In recent years the line has expanded to crossovers, coming with a higher weight limit and bigger sizes.

  • HTR Enhance C/X: The HTR Enhance C/X is a crossover tire with highway sensibility. The smooth tread is designed more for running errands around town than hitting the back roads, but this tire still brings reasonable rain and snow performance.
  • HTR Enhance WX2: Adding a sporty vibe to all-season practicality, the HTR Enhance WX2 is a fun tire that’s still practical. If you want something that is truly at home in all road conditions and types of weather, this tire is hard to beat.

Touring Line

The Touring is a slightly more budget-friendly offering serving a similar product category as the HTR Enhance line. The warranty is a little bit shorter at 50,000 miles, but for relaxed daily driving, a full set is comfortable, quiet, and most of the time can be had for less than $500. The line has some models made for crossovers and small SUVs.

  • Touring LX V: It’s hard to complain about something that does exactly what it promises, which in this case is a high-value crossover-friendly driving. Handling, although not racetrack-worthy, is fun and quick.
  • Touring LS H: Beefy enough for larger sedans and hatches, the Touring LS H is one of the cheapest in the line at around $80 per tire depending on size. Two steel belts provide touring-grade durability, while four center channels clear water and snow from the rubber contact patch.

Encounter Line

Relatively new to Sumitomo’s product list are two unique SUV tires, one of which is primarily for road use and one of which is meant for heavy off-roading. Both models come from the same design form which offers the same sizes, and they also are both similarly priced.

  • Encounter AT: While traction is adequate, don’t mistake it for one of the premium off-road offerings from companies like Falken or Goodyear—if you really want true rock-crawling capability, you’ll have to pay for it.
  • Encounter HT: The Encounter HT is a bit of a contradiction in that it tries to maximize handling with a platform meant for a car that isn’t necessarily meant to handle well. It does a good job of balancing things out, though, and it doesn’t completely lose its truck DNA, as the tire can still handle well in rain and snow.

A List of Sumitomo Tires Models

Sumitomo has a wide lineup, but not a deep lineup. That means that they’ve got tires for every situation, but not necessarily the perfect tire for every situation. If you’re looking for something more do-it-all, Sumitomo is a good option.

Passenger Tires

Racing Performance Summer Tires

HTR Z III

High Performance Summer Tires

HTR Z II
HTR Z5

High Performance All-Season Tires

HTR A/S P02 (W-Speed Rated)

Performance All-Season Tires

HTR A/S P02 (H- or V-Speed Rated)

Grand Touring All-Season Tires

HTR Enhance L/X (H-, V-, or W-Speed Rated)
HTR Enhance LX2
HTR Enhance WX2
Touring LS H
Touring LS V

Standard Touring All-Season Tires

HTR Enhance L/X (T-Speed Rated)
Touring LS T

Light Truck and SUV Tires

Street and Sport Truck All-Season Tires

HTR Sport H/P

Crossover and SUV Touring All-Season Tires

HTR Enhance C/X
HTR Enhance CX2
Touring LX H
Touring LX T
Touring LX V

Highway All-Season Tires

Encounter HT

On and Off-Road All-Terrain Tires

Encounter AT