This Brazilian tire manufacturer invests in top technology and greater infrastructure, proving to the market there is quality, reliability and durability outside famous brands. Reuben Ford gets to grips with an interesting and attractive alternative.
Industrial Levorin produces tires in four categories: motorcycles, bicycles, industrial applications and retreading. The company currently leads the Brazilian market with a 60 percent market share of bicycle tires.
The company’s sales and quality place it among the world leaders and now new initiatives are underway to increase sales and brand visibility. Among these is a $50-million factory in the heart of Brazil’s motorcycle and bicycle manufacturing region and a number of technological improvements.
“We are a strong player in the tire market – we have always focused on our product, not our name, and have products comparable to international tires in all respects,” affirms CEO of Levorin, Henning von Koss.
Deciding on Differentials
The Levorin brand has 70 years of history. From humble beginnings in a 200-square-meter warehouse to two 50,000-square-meter production units in Brazil, the company always sustained constant growth and leadership in diverse sectors of the domestic tire industry.
It was 15 years ago that Levorin decided to upgrade the quality of its products, investing in new design, compounds, processes, technology, machinery and production equipment for tire manufacturing.
Despite being a family business, Levorin welcomed executives from national and multinational companies in various sectors of the economy to help to create the differential it was looking for.
“Local bicycle producers had already included our products in theirs many years ago, but the final proof of the success of these measures came five years ago when Honda, previously a Pirelli monopoly, began fitting our tires. For a rigorous Japanese company to recognize our quality, name, product and service, together with working alongside an international leading brand such as Pirelli, was an important step,” von Koss explains.
In 2007, Levorin began construction on a second factory to increase production capacity. Strategically located in the largest city in the north of the country, Manaus (the center for Brazilian motorcycle and bicycle production), the plant is the only tire producer in the region and sources part of its natural rubber need from local cooperatives.
“Natural rubber is an important component in tire production and has been historically a strong social and economical pillar of the Amazon Region. As part of our social commitment we are working closely with local communities involving more than 2000 families who live from the extractivism of natural rubber along the Amazon River. Together with the local authorities, our goal is to guarantee the sustainability of the whole process,” von Koss says.
He also explains that the new facility, built from scratch, gave the company the opportunity to install state-of-the-art technology. “Our factory and headquarters in Guarulhos, São Paulo, is older and is updated and adapted according to organic growth. Manaus was planned from the start.”
The manual element in tire production is still high and production technology, particularly for motorcycle and bicycle tires, has not evolved much in relation to market growth.
“Where we can innovate and improve is in design, material and compounds and less in machines. Molds and preparation of the tire depend on the qualities and characteristics of the rubber. For example, the anti-puncture system, with considerably lower risk of perforation than regular tires, is an innovation related to materials rather than machines,” von Koss exemplifies.
Successful production of modern tires requires compound engineering. Lightweight tires, which depend on textiles and wirings, with low rolling resistance, and depend on the compound formulation, are on the top list of requirements “Traditional tires can weigh up to one kilogram, while top end competition tires may come down to 250-gram,” von Koss adds.
Levorin produces traditional intermediate and premium tires, including folding tires, like those used in the United States. “Folding tires feature beads made of Kevlar, a flexible fabric, which allows folding the tire flat for easy storage and portability. It also makes the tire lighter for better acceleration and handling,” von Koss explains.
Levorin is the only bicycle tire brand manufactured in the Americas and has grown to meet the expectations of the market. As well as folding tires, the company follows trends set by Germany that lead the industry in tire technology.
“In our bicycle sector we cater to leisure – offering a South American option for amateur and semi professional cyclists,” von Koss clarifies.
“The motorcycle segment in Brazil is an atypical market for tires. Due to cost and mobility the two-wheeled options are more favorable than cars, and economic aspects like mileage, play an important role,” he continues.
Levorin produces bias and not radial tires. Bias tires provide greater resistance to scuffing and high strength resulting from diagonal or bias plies, which crisscross to make the tire strong in all directions. The common small motorcycle uses 90/90 (centimeter) tires – a market in which Levorin and Pirelli are leaders.
Moving In the Right Direction
The Manaus factory, completed in 2012, caters exclusively to the bicycle and motorcycle market. In São Paulo, Levorin produces inner tubes, industrial tires (such as 10-inch tires for wheel barrows and tools) and has retreading facilities. Together the plants employ 2,000 people.
As well as investing in Manaus, Levorin directs heavy investment toward a new generation of materials for tires. “We follow the direction that the market is heading. Downhill biking and mountain biking, for example, requires certain specifications. Trekking and trail-biking demand resistance and high durability,” von Koss explains.
The company works with bicycle manufacturers on market analysis and technical specifications, developing design attributes together and conducting tests on rubber. “Before production it is important to see the reaction of the material and see it in motion,” von Koss affirms.
Development of motorcycle tires follows similar procedures; current trends, consumer experience and asphalt quality are important factors in engineering and design.
Investment and studies are paying off. As of 2012, Levorin is experiencing 25 percent annual growth following increased demand. Von Koss continues: “We are a national company with international standards. A tire is a very technical product and this is our focus. It has led us successfully through 70 years of business – an achievement few have made.”
He also recognizes the need for more brand advertising. An unsung hero in domestic tire sales, Levorin has plans to export to the United States in the future. “We are comparatively unknown in relation to the multinationals, but with Honda and other important clients, exposure to our brand is growing.”
Economic factors are also favoring business. Previously unregulated in Brazil, tires are now subject to industry standards. “In the car industry, there have always been quality controls on tires. In our divisions, lack of government control left the decision in the hands of the consumer, allowing market access to cheap imports,” von Koss explains.
A modest market leader, Levorin is a silent partner in the two-wheeled and industrial tire market. With expertise in tire engineering and retreading, the company offers lower cost solutions to companies and consumers.
The silence is being broken – with renewed determination, technology and techniques the market is set to hear more from Levorin.