In a market that most would consider saturated, one company stands out from the rest with a clear competitive advantage over all others. This company happens to be Nutek Wheels, an American manufacturer of custom forged wheels. What sets them apart is not their advertising, not their style, not their market, but rather the people behind the company. Nutek Wheels was started by Gene Howald, a former race car driver under Howald Racing Enterprises (HRE). If that sounds familiar it is because Gene also founded HRE Performance Wheels. With over two decades of experience and several patents to his name, Gene saw an open opportunity and capitalized on it. Read more to learn why Gene sold HRE and his reason for starting Nutek Wheels…
Before we begin, we recommend you to watch this behind the scenes video of Nutek Wheels that shows their manufacturing process and why their wheels are superior in quality.
Who are the founders of Nutek Wheels and what is their background?
Only two founders, Gene Howald and Dan Lezotte. Gene is best known as the founder of HRE Performance wheels, a company whose roots date back nearly 30 years ago. Prior to that, Gene was involved in Formula 2 car racing and it was from his involvement in racing that HRE was formed. The name actually was merely an adaptation of Howald Racing Enterprises, hence using the first letters of each word. Since Gene’s family was from Switzerland, he opted to incorporate the Swiss flag in the logo and that icon has remained a part of the brand identity ever since. Gene has always been a motorsports enthusiast, starting out as a sponsor in AA Fuel drag racing and then on to his personal involvement in formula car racing and racecar fabrication. He is a member of the SEMA Wheel and Tire Council and was nominated in 2011 for the “Lifetime Achievement” award.
Dan Lezotte became a manufacturer’s rep and product engineer right after graduating from college. He has worked in the automotive industry exclusively since he began his career. The past 12 years have been dedicated solely to wheels and the growth of Custom Wheel Solutions (CWS). Dan worked primarily in the OEM segment of the wheel industry until he and Gene decided to step across the line and rejoin the aftermarket by setting up Nutek as a small manufacturing facility in Southern California.
Today, Gene and Dan own two separate companies to address the needs of their growing list of customers. Custom Wheel Solutions focuses primarily on larger OEM customers where complete turnkey product development support is required, while CWS California, or Nutek as the company is known in the industry, specializes in providing private label manufacturing as well as marketing its own brands under the Nutek and Bavaria labels.
What was the reason for Gene selling HRE Wheels? If given the chance, would he have kept ownership?
After 20 years, it stopped being fun, too many employees and the issues that come with growing too large. Yes, I would love to have the opportunity to run HRE Wheels today, knowing what I have learned over the course of my career.
As a pioneer within the industry, what kinds of patents are under your name?
Eight patents for various functional applications of wheel design technology for racing, military, and commercial applications. The patents relate to energy absorption for racing wheels, to masking heat signatures and central tire inflation, utilizing run flat technology for military applications, as well as a few things that cannot be divulged due to the sensitive nature of military technology.
From race car driver to wheel manufacturer, what sparked the idea to create your own line of wheels?
It’s ironic because I was both a racer and motorsports enthusiast with solid business background. I was hired as a consultant by a Japanese wheel manufacturer that wanted to sell more products in the USA. The plan was to have me act as an import agent for the company, and allow large, well established distributors actually take the wheels to market. It did not take long for me to realize two things: #1 – that I could sell the wheels better than anyone else, and #2 – I could actually manufacture the wheels in the USA faster and more cost effectively. Those two realizations led to the creation of HRE while I still maintained my racing interests as well.
For 20 years you ran HRE Wheels, only to come back again 8 years later with Nutek, what was the motivation?
I saw a shift in the marketplace and a niche that was not being properly served. This time, instead of only manufacturing wheels for our own “in house” brand, I wanted to make wheels as a private label manufacturer for many small companies that could benefit from my years in the business.
What is the most important aspect in creating a wheel?
Clearly the most important aspect of wheel design is style or the overall cosmetic appearance. If a wheel doesn’t have “curb appeal” it doesn’t matter how technically correct it is, no one will buy it. Once the overall appearance is found to be acceptable, then the most important element is making sure the wheel is technically correct and clears all inboard obstructions and fits properly in the fender well. People expect a wheel to fit if it is represented to be the correct application for a car. If we fail to make good on that expectation, we fail as a wheel manufacturer. Lastly, finish is a very subjective issue. Price comes into play when finishes are being considered, so if it is a commodity wheel, finish is very basic, but if it is a 3 piece wheel it needs to look like jewelry.
With the way the automotive industry evolves at a rapid pace, what do you anticipate the wheel industry to be like in the next 5 years?
The wheel industry has been in a constant state of migration for the past two decades. Mostly, it follows low cost manufacturing, so it will one day leave China and move on to other emerging manufacturing countries like Vietnam and Malaysia. That said, technology has always “ruled” in our industry. As manufacturing capabilities continue to improve, and more exotic materials become available like carbon fiber, it is likely to see wheels moving away from basic metals like steel and aluminum, and moving into composites, carbon fiber and exotic metal matrix alloys. Finishes will also evolve as more and more interesting finishes are developed like the ceramic coatings Nutek currently uses.
Tell us a little bit about Nutek Wheels and what you guys offer…
We offer the highest quality available for an extremely competitive price, but more importantly, we make “one off” sets of wheels for those who demand the ultimate in motoring performance. We offer very high end one piece cast and forged wheels through our Bavaria line, and the more traditional modular forged three piece wheels under the Nutek brand name. Styles are both classic and cutting edge. We offer the new “monoblock” concave look in all brands, and we also continue to produce the classic styles that were developed by Gene while at HRE that are timeless and still in demand today.
Tell us the differences and design philosophy between your current styles of wheels…
The Nutek Series was developed to always push the envelope. We wanted to find ways to take advantage of 5 axis milling, push for complex surfaces, and set the pace for how 3 piece wheels were manufactured. We have taken that even further by incorporating OEM standards in every wheel we make.
Our Classic Series was created to offer the customer the option of choosing wheels that have been around for many years, but have stood the test of time as truly “classic designs” that are “timeless” and still in demand, sometimes more than 20 years after their initial introduction. These may not take advantage of all the technical capabilities the Nutek Series does, simply due to the fact when they were first developed, the manufacturing capabilities and design processes were much simpler than they are today.
The Concave Series is an answer to the current design preferences of today’s market. Every wheel manufacturer must remain current with what the consumer and aftermarket vehicle designers are asking for. Our Concave Series is positioned to answer that demand. For a long time, wheels were fairly flat faced, but now, with a new approach to design, we can meet the challenges of the high offset application, without sacrificing that “deeper” more concave look from the past. It is like putting a modern twist on a theme from 20 years ago, with the result being something really fresh in appearance and appeal.
Bavaria Wheels offers an alternative for those in the market seeking the look of an expensive forged monoblock wheel at a competitive price. This wheel line opens the door for a lot of customers that are currently shut out of both monoblock and 3 piece forged wheels due to their higher prices. Now a customer can capture the look, without the high price tag.
In what ways does Nutek Wheels make custom wheel ordering experience easy?
First, we provide an online “wheel designer” within our website that allows the customer to choose from many options such as size, width, style, color, finishes, exposed or hidden assembly bolts, and much more. Once the wheel is chosen, the customer can drop it onto their car make and model to really see what his chosen wheel will look like. After choosing his wheel design and various attributes, the customer can print out a picture for himself, and at the same time, with one click, send us an email with the image of what he wants us to build. We receive this request each morning, and then a member of our sales staff will follow up to contact the customer to finalize the order process. At that time, we go through all the details of the order to make sure it is exactly what the customer wants. Nutek is all about “total customization”. Each and every set of wheels we build is a “one off” totally customized set built just for one customer and one car. So far, no two sets have been completely alike. Orders ship in about 3-4 weeks on average.
We would like to welcome Nutek Wheels to the Secret Entourage network. As you can see they have the history and reputation for building quality wheels with no short cuts, thanks to their approach to manufacturing within the United States. Together SE and Nutek have plenty in store for you over the next year. We recommend that you check out their website and their state of the art wheel designer tool.
Learn more and stay connected with Nutek Wheels at these places: