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The Truth About Nitto Tires

Fitment Industries Author | | July 26th, 2018 |

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    - You moving back and forth shows energy, shows action. You have your whole body moving into something, you have your shoulders up, you're ready to go you can talk about whatever you want, then you sit back down and you're like, "We're gonna talk about tire history." The tire brand that's all about being aggressive and tough, and beards and stuff. Today we're gonna be talking about the tire brand that pretty much all of you know and love, Toyo Tires' little brother, Nitto Tire. Nitto Tire was founded in 1949, and while they're partnered with Toyo Tires, Nitto was originally an independent tire maker. And for the most part, just simply exported their tires though all of the world. There was nothing super crazy about Nitto's upbringing besides the fact that they wanted to make affordable tires that just could sell. But there was one problem with Nitto that a lot of other companies didn't have. They just couldn't figure out how to sell tires. They exported bias ply truck tires and some commercial tires, but amongst that they really just didn't have an image or focus or target market or anything like that. They just made tires.

    By the 1960s, Nitto was exporting all throughout the world, most predominantly the United States and the Middle East. Now, it's not to say that, really, Nitto's history is that shy when it comes to difficult situations. Nitto just never really had it easy. They had numerous times where they almost declared bankruptcy, had multiple issues with service and quality, and just overall had a tough time just trying to stay alive. And even though Nitto began to expand and grow throughout the world, every single time they got bigger, they just had a harder time staying alive. The company didn't know what to do. They expanded into the United States market in the hopes that it would help their portfolio, but their Japanese headquarters... Their Japanese headquarters essentially could not stay afloat for the life of them. They tried desperately to grow in the United States market and even opened up a sales operation in California. But while things were just kinda starting to take off here and not really in any good way, they just could not figure out how to maintain the entire ship of Nitto together without it, you know...

    (whistles) You know, sinking. But it became very clear that Nitto had to figure out something to do with the brand, otherwise they just weren't gonna survive. And even though Toyo Tire acquired them in 1979, Nitto really didn't get a whole lot of help. They just didn't have a good time, man. They just weren't doing the best that they possibly could. In fact they probably weren't even doing mediocre. So how would you say they were going in the 1980s? Wellllll... Not so great. I mean, they were doing okay, but not good enough to actually maintain their original market of their Japanese headquarters. Nitto had pulled nearly everything they possibly could back in and only supplied tires to well, two specific areas, which was the Middle East and the United States of America. Besides that, Nitto just was not capable of holding on to anything more than that. So there was good news: Nitto made six million in sales. Bad news: they nine million tires in inventory. Everything from start to finish when it came to Nitto, was in complete disarray. See, now this is where it actually gets fun to talk about Nitto because when the 1990s came around, Nitto finally decided, "Let's try to fix this from the ground up." Enter a man named Tomo Mizutani. Now, Tomo was essentially Nitto's answer to figuring out all of their problems. Tomo was a guy that was essentially created and well, put in a position to turn around the Nitto brand. He just started asking people what they wanted. And he got the idea from another individual. Hiroki Ichiki. He got the idea from the man in regards to somebody that had noticed that there was a large growing population of import tuners that were putting aftermarket wheels on their cars but didn't have tire sizes to appropriately fit these, well, aftermarket vehicles. And there was a lot of street racing happening in Japan as well as western California began to grow, and there wasn't a tire manufacturer that was actually capable of making the stuff that enthusiasts wanted. So Tomo decided, well, "If there's ever a chance "to make some money, let's go ask other people "and see if that's what they want." And he did, he went to different autobody shops, repair shops, racing shops, and everything in between to ask people what they wanted. And they got pretty much one answer: "Just give us different tire sizes."

    So they had three months to come up with some sort of answer, otherwise something was gonna cut and they were likely not gonna have a future in the company. Three months went by and Tomo and his team essentially created the tire that people wanted. He returned back to a lot of these racing shops and different locations to showcase these products that they made. A lot of the guys that talked to Tomo had no idea what Nitto was, and they had no idea what the brand was, but really, the enthusiasts didn't care. They didn't have brand loyalty like they do now, and they really didn't care because it just provided them with an opportunity to have tires that fit their wheels. Tomo, by the way, is now the United States President and CEO of Toyo Tires, which is a pretty cool thing. See, I told you there was some good news to this. So traditionally, Nitto really didn't have any success in the past, so Tomo and his team had a lot of freedom to do what they wanted because at the end of the day, if it didn't work, what do you have to lose? Tomo and his team really essentially locked themselves in rooms, days and nights, to figure out what products people wanted, doing all the R and D, trying to create the molds and everything needed for people to just start buying Nitto. I mean, it was (imitates bomb exploding) shocking to a company like Nitto that if they did that it worked. People like Dario Orlando began to sponsor the Nitto brand because of his experience with the tires themselves. But when Nitto started to get involved, especially with companies like the Mustang scene and the forums and magazines that were catered around the muscle car scene in terms of track use, Nitto began to win. And there's a lot of companies that were starting to get upset by Nitto kinda taking the top off and winning first place, and kinda just rubbing it in everybody's faces. Because this company came out of nowhere and started to listen to what people wanted and their products were, well, pretty good. It didn't matter what the brand was because people started to like them. So they decided to attend more events and it became very clear that they had another market that they were completely missing: trucks. They noticed that there's a huge truck market in the United States and they went out to car shows and trucks shows and swap meets and baja events and everything in between to figure out what people wanted. And they found out that truck people, well, they wanted different tire sizes.

    Weird, it's like again, enthusiasts wanting something and the brand was like, "Yeah, we can make that for you." So Nitto partnered with companies like AMT Metal Alloys that made aftermarket truck wheels and things like that. They just needed to have something that had larger tire sizes and Nitto was the one company that said, "Absolutely, we can do that." Nitto was the reason that a lot of companies began to supply these larger, wider tire sizes that a lot of other companies just didn't offer at the time. And because of the price point that they were at Nitto was just becoming like the good guys. It was the company that people wanted to do business with. It was the company that people liked to do business with. It was like the cool, hip uncle. So Nitto had the car companies on lock, they had the truck guys, the mall crawlers like the truck right next to me, and they had everything in between locked down, but there was one other market that they were completely missing that they noticed was taking over a lot of the California scene: off road. Nitto was like, "Boom, let's go out there "and see if they want something." And they did, they wanted tire treads that were aggressive looking, that looked good, that performed well, that weren't gonna cost a lot of money, and Nitto was like, "Sure, let's do that." And they originally got the name from the fact that they wanted their tire tread to look like a dinosaur footprint, but they introduced a whole bunch of different tire treads. They introduced the Mud Grappler, which was extremely aggressive and loud and in your face, that a lot of people loved. They introduced the Dune Grappler, which was for obvious reasons for dunes and things like that, that had a great traction path and just worked outside of your normal Walmart meet. They had the Trail Grappler, which is considered one of the most popular mud tires that you can buy for your truck at the time. And the Terra Grappler, which was an all-terrain truck tire that, well you know, you could pretty much throw on anything. And these tires were massively successful. And then finally, and this is kinda jumping ahead a little bit, they introduced the Ridge Grappler, which is considered by most people, the most successful popular truck tire you can possibly put on any aftermarket wheel for the truck scene. Why are we talking about trucks so much? Well, because it was a huge market that Nitto hit and they hit it extremely well. Because of that market and because of the fact that the truck community and the off road community and the car community were just taken back by how well Nitto was providing products, Nitto actually began to like, be successful.

    Now they were actually doing something pretty cool. They continued to listen to people, they hosted all sorts of different competitions an