Text by Cheryl Tay
Photos by Cheryl Tay and courtesy of RAYS
A car enthusiast himself, KJ Yamaguchi used to take his car to the track. Brandishing shiny wheels from Japanese wheels manufacturer RAYS, KJ was attracted to their unique designs. He was so interested in the brand and its products that he joined the company upon graduation and is still with them today.
“I remember there were only 25 employees when I joined. Over the last four decades, it has expanded to 300 over staffs. In Japan, we, or at least my generation, valued long service as a priority hence it is not surprising to find some of us who have been with the company for a long time,” KJ told me during an interview in the Jurong megamart of local tyre distributor Stamford Tyres.
Now in his 50s, KJ oversees the Volk Racing wheel planning section as well as the overseas marketing department. First starting out in sales, he shifted to production planning, then became a racing engineer. In fact, RAYS’ foray into Formula 1 was spearheaded by KJ. Since the 2007 Formula 1 season, the Williams F1 team has been racing with RAYS F1 racing wheels. Currently, there are only three wheel suppliers in F1 – BBS, O.Z Racing, RAYS and Enkei.
“More than 10 years ago, we received requests from teams like McLaren and Ferrari who were looking for wheels for their F1 cars. We spoke to Williams in 2005, signed the contract in 2006 then spent some time doing development and finally got the wheels on their cars since 2007,” KJ explained.
RAYS is a high-end Japanese wheel manufacturer for both motorsports and street use. Of its various product lines, the most popular is its flagship brand Volk Racing. Besides supplying OEM wheels to car manufacturers, they also supply wheels to factory race teams of Nissan, Honda, Toyota, and Mazda that participate in racing series such as Super GT, Japanese Touring Car Championship, British Touring Car Championship and Formula Nippon.
In Singapore, as well as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, Stamford Tyres is the official distributor for RAYS. The relationship started way back in 1998 after KJ met Roger Chang, now Senior Vice President for the Wheels Division at Stamford Tyres, at Automechanika in Germany.
“Every country has different market situations but one universal challenge we face is the issue of having imitations of our wheels. Designs can be copied yes, but not the technologies and the performance behind the designs. Wheels are more than just an accessory to beautify your car,” KJ shared.
Previously, RAYS targeted more Japanese ‘car owners in Singapore but there has been a shift in the industry over the last few years. Explaining the reasons, Roger said, “An average Singaporean customer is price-sensitive and it doesn’t help that the Japanese Yen was getting stronger. Now in Singapore, the new car market is sees more European car purchases while the resale market sees more Japanese ones.
“The young these days are smarter due to more overseas exposure or simply from the Internet, hence they are more familiar with the European segment and are more accepting of European cars and their technologies. European car brands have also been working very hard to improve the efficiency of their vehicles.”
Sharing his plan for the next five years, KJ concluded the session, “Five years ago, we were developing a lot of wheels for cars like the Nissan 350Z, Subaru Impreza WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Moving forward, we will be focusing on European cars as there is a rising trend for compact Continental cars.”
Founded in the 1930s by Wee Boon Kwee, the father of President Wee Kok Wah, Stamford Tyres started out as a tyre shop and petrol service station on Stamford Road (hence the name). Today, Stamford Tyres is a global distributor and retailer of a full range of tyres, wheels and car accessories.
Presently, Stamford Tyres has operations in more than 30 countries – in South East Asia, China, Hong Kong, Africa, India, Europe, the USA and Latin America. They provide tyre and wheel distribution services, retail operations and management services with over 20 Stamford Tyre retail centres across Asia.
Headquartered in Jurong at 19 Lok Yang Way, Stamford Tyres has eight tyre megamarts, three express services and three truck centres in Singapore. They even have tyre workshops at Subaru and Nissan showrooms.
Having been the official exclusive distributor for RAYS wheels in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand since 1998, Stamford Tyres has a comprehensive range of wheels to suit your ride.
*This was first published in Best Car Singapore.