Wheeling and dealing

In the past, when customers bought a vehicle, the wheels were an afterthought. But with the popularity of the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper” and the wide variety of car, truck and motorcycle accessories available, today’s vehicle manufacturers are appealing to customers’ desire for customization.

Tim Myers, general manager of forged specialty wheels at Alcoa Wheel Products in Cleveland, compares this trend to getting dressed up.

“If somebody goes out and buys a nice suit, then they want to have nice shoes or a nice tie. That’s what a wheel is on a vehicle,” he says. “That’s what we pay a lot of attention to — how can we get the right kind of aesthetics into the face of a wheel?”

In the past, vehicle manufacturers would typically give Alcoa a wheel design, and the forged specialty wheels division tried to make it in the most cost-effective way. Adopting a new approach, Myers now shows the vehicle manufacturer a catalog of wheel styles and designs that he knows Alcoa can deliver to the market quickly and cost-effectively.

Through this innovative concept, Alcoa has collapsed the time to market from 40 weeks to 12 weeks and now launches a new wheel product every week.

Myers says the company is focusing on wheel aesthetics and is planning within a year to bring to market new engineered surfaces that will provide a unique look to vehicles.

“We’re (also) doing a lot of work in and around the performance aspect of the wheel,” he says. “We’re looking at the material itself and what we can do to make it more efficient, stronger and lighter for sports enthusiasts.”

It takes a clear vision to adopt these changes, and Myers communicates regularly with his forged specialty wheels team.

“They understand how things connect to a core strategy and what it is we’re trying to accomplish to create competitive advantage so that they’re focusing all of their creative energies on the right types of things,” he says. “It’s unleashing the minds of many versus unleashing the minds of a few.”

HOW TO REACH: Alcoa Wheel Products, (216) 641-5078 or www.alcoa.com