There’s no better feeling than seeing your hard work spread in places you’ve never imagined. This is especially true for Vincent Wong, founder of iForged Wheels who can now see his line of wheels used anywhere from Mobil1 ads to an aftermarket wheel option in the Forza Motorsports video game. In an industry where it seems wheel companies come and go, iForged has been around for over a decade thanks to Vincent’s dedication and innovation. In fact, many companies and styles can be linked back to Vincent and iForged. Read more to see how Vincent left his mark on the wheel industry…
What got you into the car scene and what sparked the birth of iForged Wheels?
I have been a fan of the car scene since I was little. I remember having a poster of a Ferrari Testarossa in my bedroom as a kid. In my teen years I was a huge fan of the Honda car scene and had a widebody Honda Accord Coupe with Altezza tailight conversion with a steel widebody and a Mercedes blue paintjob. Once I did my widebody I realized it was very hard to find wheels to fit my car. This idea also manifested when I was building my first European car; a 2001 Audi S4. No one could make wheels that would clear my huge caliper and I was running on a set of Racing Hart C5 with a 25mm spacer in the front. I thought it was ridiculous and first made a set of wheels just for myself and then had more and more people ask me about it and that is when the business started.
What were you doing at the time when you started iForged?
I started iForged back in 2000 during my sophomore year of college. I was studying to become a computer engineer and had to quickly change my major to economics. At that time there was really no one else doing custom wheels. HRE was still only using step lips, so we were really the first company to bring out 3 piece reverse lip wheels and start building up the industry as we progressed.
Most people wouldn’t even know where to begin. How did you get your foot in the door?
I was lucky to meet and be mentored by an engineer and designer who had over 20 years of experience in the wheel industry. Because of my engineering background and thought process I was able to change the way the entire wheel industry would see 3 piece wheels. When I first got going in late 2000 many companies were still using the step lip barrels. We were the first company to start heavily pushing the 2 piece and 3 piece reverse contour profile which is pretty much the standard today for the industry.
How were you able to finance this business from the beginning?
In the beginning I did get some seed money from my family. As the business took off I was able to pay back the loans in the first year of business. We were profitable in the first year and have never looked back since then. The cost of building wheels has come down a little bit in the last decade because of competition between the parts suppliers. The price is still determined by a lot of factors such as the LME (London Metal Exchange) and the price of oil. People forget that aluminum is a commodity and also requires a lot of fuel to process. If the price of aluminum rises you will see it trickle down to us and the wheel companies eventually have to increase our prices. Also 3 piece wheel construction is very labor intensive so you will always see mutli piece modular wheels on the higher end of the wheel price spectrum.
At the time who were your main competitors?
My main competitor when I started was HRE. At that time it was only HRE and iForged in the custom 3 piece wheel industry. We definitely have had many great years of growth until the industry started getting saturated in the mid 2000s. I will say I am somehow probably related to 90% of the forged wheel companies that came up during the last 6 years. I have had employees, dealer, distributors, and friends start wheel companies after they saw the growth of iForged.
What did competition do for you and how were you able to compete?
I do think competition is good for the market as a whole though. It helps push innovation. I am a member of the SEMA Wheel and Tire Council and now I spend more time trying to give back to the wheel and tire industry since it has given me so much during the last 11 years. We survive by building a great quality product and a great price and will continue to push the boundaries and envelope when developing wheels. Our slogan is “reinventing the wheel” and that is what iForged has been doing since 2000. We have 11 years of experience and many of the innovations we have created definitely help grow the 3 piece wheel industry. A lot of new wheel companies will try to say they use better parts than us or HRE, but the truth of the matter is there are only a select handful of parts suppliers that everyone wheel company in the industry buys from. We pretty much all use the same components to make our wheels.
iForged grew at quite a rapid pace. What adjustments did you have to make to handle demand?
As we started growing larger and larger we realized we had to focus more on process then just purely sales and marketing. With my computer engineering background I wrote spec sheets and we created internal programs and databases that allow us to quickly analyze and project everything from raw material inventory and cost, inventory management, delivery deadlines and would integrate with our accounting software and production schedules. Without these advances we could have never grown to where we are today.
How large is iForged today? What can we expect to come?
iForged is currently sold in over 50 countries around the world by our worldwide distribution network. It feels great to travel to foreign countries and see our wheels on cars. There has not been one country I have visited in the last 5 years where I have not randomly seen a automobile without iForged wheels on the street. It feels so rewarding to see your work appreciated by fellow car enthusiasts. We also have licensing agreements with most of the major video game manufactures and you can select iForged wheels in the virtual world as well in titles such as Forza, Need for Speed, and the Midnight Club series.
We are very fortunate to work with the best car builders in the industry. Working direct with car makers such as Ford, GM, Lexus, and Nissan has enabled iForged to bring high quality lightweight forged wheels to the OEM market. iForged Wheels have been displayed on vehicles all over the world from L.A. Auto Show, Houston Auto Show, New York Auto Show, Tokyo Auto Salon, and the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. iForged is almost pushing the envelope in wheel development and we will have some revolutionary new products released this year in our SEMA Booth. Come visit us at booth #47037 in the South Hall in Las Vegas Nov 1st-Nov 4th 2011. I would love to personally show you what we have at that time.
Where do you see the wheel industry going in the next few years?
The wheel industry has become so saturated in the last few years. You have more and more wheel companies popping up everywhere. These days you have individuals who buy forged center disc from various machine shops and source barrels from third parties, assemble them in their garage and they call themselves a wheel company. These guys can’t read drawings, never used CAD, or have no CNC experience. What happens when you have a warranty issue? Its a shame there is where our industry is going to, but eventually everything will correct itself on its own. You could be buying from a company with no liability insurance, no warehouse, no workers comp, who ship wheels from their garage and all while representing their company as a legitimate wheel company. Scary stuff.
What motivates you to do what you do?
My main source of motivation is to constantly challenge myself. I get bored doing the same routine over and over everyday. I love working on new projects and I don’t mind the 12 hour workdays which I still put in after 11 years. Everyone who personally knows me in the industry knows that I am a workaholic, but I find joy in doing something I truly love and enjoy. I was born a car enthusiast and I love constantly reinventing the wheel.
What are your top 3 most memorable project cars and why?
1. Techart Porsche 997 GT Street Build was featured on the outside of the SEMA Halls in 2008 and was on taxi cabs, billboards, etc.
2. Misha Widebody Mercedes SL Widebody. Car was fully built all around and looked the most aggressive of all my cars.
3. Veilside Fortune RX7. First one in the United States and I still get offers to buy it today.
We want to thank Vincent of iForged Wheels for sharing his story with us all. iForged has big things planned for 2012 so we definitely recommend that you stay up to date with them. You can find them at the following sources: