Minggu, 22 Juli 2012

AUTOMOTIVE: Custom wheel producer blazes trail from North County 23-07-2012

M.hre.5.0713.jl.jpg Isidro Hernandez polishes rims at HRE a Vista Company that manufactures performance wheels for sports and luxury cars. JAMIE SCOTT LYTLE | 

At the X Games in Los Angeles earlier this month, a race car hit the track with a set of experimental wheels designed and made by Vista-based HRE Performance Wheels.
Both elite motorsports drivers and everyday road warriors, nationally and internationally, have noticed the work of the 40-employee firm, a luxury and motor sports custom wheel manufacturer. The Great Recession hit HRE hard, but the company has survived ---- in part, by expanding its reach internationally ---- and continues to thrive by adding products to its repertoire.
"We've been in Vista for forever," said HRE President Alan Peltier, a talkative engineer who joined back in 1999. HRE was founded in 1978, and once resided in a 5000 square foot facility in Vista decades ago. Over the years it moved into increasingly large facilities nearby, eventually landing in its current 60,000-square foot facility, nestled in a business track off Sycamore Road.
"We've been literally within a quarter-mile for the past 20 years," he said.
When it began, HRE offered more than just wheels, including suspension and other components for recreational motorsport drivers. Now HRE focuses on build-to-order wheels, made from premium materials, which complement each customer's vehicle, whether it's a race car or commuter vehicle.
The business caters to three categories: drivers looking for street performance for sports cars such as Ferraris or Porsches; luxury rims for top brands such as Rolls-Royce or Bentley; and motorsports wheels for competitors in series such as Grand AM, Formula Drift and American Iron.
The majority of HRE's sales come from retailers and high-end part shops, though the designers will consider private commissions.
HG Motorsports, a components retailer in Sorrento Valley, has worked with HRE since 2008.
Chris Frick, general manager at HG, said that in terms of quality, performance and customer service, HRE's products are the top wheels they offer.
"We've track-tested and stress-tested HRE wheels, and they've held up to everything we've thrown at them," he said.
HRE constructs its products in a warehouse in the back of its office in Vista. It's a noisy space full of behemoth machines, stacks of half-made wheels and bins full of curlicued metal waste. It buys shaped aluminum from Aluminum Precision Products, the company that supplies Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Boeing.
The in-process wheels move from stage to stage, transforming from forged aluminum blanks to sleek rims in a multitude of spoke styles and finishes.
Peltier said that HRE makes lightness and strength priorities over appearance. These attributes ensure faster acceleration and deceleration, durability, and a degree of comfort. However, Peltier insisted that the company has a very high aesthetic bar as well.
"We're not trying to chase the flash," he said, adding later, "It really does have to be beautiful for us."
The strong-light-beautiful formula has worked well for HRE. In the years approaching the recession, the company had double-digit growth, according to Peltier. He said the company had rebounded from tough times in 2008, but declined to divulge the company's exact finances. He did say that HRE sells about 2,500 sets of wheels a year, at prices between $5,000 and $10,000 per set.
"You can do the math," he said.
Peltier said that the company, led by himself and CEO and Chairman Chris Lunhow, had recovered in part by seeking customers abroad. In 2011, HRE opened a distribution center in Stuttgart, Germany (down the road from Porsche), to tap into the car-savvy culture there. In Taiwan, a third party now runs a licensed showroom dedicated to HRE. International sales now make up about 40 percent of HRE's business, Peltier said.
Adventurous in its increased stability, this fall the company plans to sell a cheaper set of wheels for entry-level luxury cars (still $3,000), designed in-house and built in Japan by manufacturers whose expertise Peltier said they can trust. The company is also looking into pricier carbon wheels.
HRE seems to be open to new opportunities, as with its foray into the X Games Global Rallycrossevent. Its engineers put together a set of prototype wheels with a lip along each edge, something called a B-lock that is really designed for off-road trucks. The feature prevented the tires from becoming damaged and slipping off during extreme turns and jumps, an issue that has bedeviled the sport since its start in 2011.
"We had some of the other major teams contacting us, inquiring about the wheels," said Peltier.
Now the company is in talks to design sets of wheels for the 2013 season.
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