You won’t see the familiar blue-and-teal colors in Drifting or Off-Road anytime soon. Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. Falken Tires subsidiary has made the decision to pull out of motorsports beginning in 2023, after nearly two decades of involvement in North America Motorsports. Falken has been involved with Formula Drift for the past 19 seasons, claiming five championships, including back-to-back championships in 2017, 2018, and 2019 making the brand a household name with young male Americans.
Beginning in 2020 Falken got involved a sponsor with Amsoil Champ Off Road after sponsoring several teams prior. Falken also supported race teams in Ultra 4, Desert off-road racing, sports-car endurance racing and other forms of road racing. Falken will Instead redirect resources previously earmarked for motorsports into marketing efforts that support the launch of new products.
It’s really easy to look at racing or marketing on a spreadsheet and cut it not understanding the long-term effects on a brand. Falken Tires had become a part of Drift Culture via their sponsorship of Formula D, an immeasurable value that frankly may never be gained again. They were well on their way to becoming a part of the off-road culture as well.
I will readily admit am totally biased and for me this is personal. You see in high school there was this dorky kid (We were all dorky kids) that was totally into cars and car audio systems. His obsession with cars was totally annoying but his passion became his carrier. He worked at body shops, then at B& G suspension in San Diego, basically anything he could do to be involved with performance cars until he got hired at Falken Tire in 2002.
Nick Fousekis and his team went on to build Falken into one of the most important brands in tuner car culture via their involvement with Formula D, a feat not to be underestimated. In 2013 I called him up because no tire companies saw the value in supporting a UTV-based video project we were working on. He got it right away. Most of the other brands I spoke with at the time didn’t know what UTV’s were. The video XP1K introduced the world to the new sport version of UTV’s featuring the Polaris RZR.
You see brands without culture are just distributors of products, cold commodities that will only be worth what the current markets set the price at. Consumers make purchasing decisions based on many things, but the emotional connection with the brand is the most powerful. Price, quality, availability, etc. go out the window. I mean for God’s sake we are carrying around thousand-dollar supercomputers in our pockets! We don’t really “need” any of the performance cars or products we purchase, yet we spend billions globally on performance automotive cars and parts now more than ever. When brands correctly connect with culture and become part of that culture, it’s pure magic. Consumers will consume that brand, usually for life as a part of their lifestyle/culture.
We don’t need another foreign tire brand in America, consumers already have too many brands to choose from. My message to the powers that be at Falken / Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. is simple. You are making a terrible mistake, one that will negatively affect your brand in the long term. Close an office, cut staff, make pay cuts, do anything you can to reduce overhead, but don’t throw away the decades of gains you have made in American car culture giving you an intangible foothold in the massive 22.2 billion dollar American tire market. You may never get it back.