Philippine Aluminum Wheels Incorporated, the pioneer wheel manufacturer in the country, more popularly known as Rota Wheels, has been making wheels for more than thirty years now. The company initially started as a joint venture between the Romeo Rojas and FPS Italy, which was a wheel supplier for Rojas’ already successful auto accessory distribution business. The joint-venture company was known as Rota-Italia.
The new company was formed in 1976 with its factory for making alloy wheels. The Rota brand name was launched a year later and was chosen as OEM supplier to then Chrysler-Mitsubishi, its first OEM client. Other automakers followed suit making Rota Wheels their official wheel supplier.
In 1983, the company became a 100% Filipino owned as the Italians pulled out during the Asian crisis, it was later renamed the company to Philippine Aluminum Wheels, Inc. (PAWI). New wheel manufacturing and testing equipment with state-of-the-art technologies were invested into the company to fast track wheel production and competitiveness in the export market. From a 4,000 wheels per month capacity when it first started, PAWI now produces about 50,000 alloy wheels a month. Carving a name for itself in the world wheel market, Rota Wheels are being used by car enthusiasts in 18 countries across the world.
AI: What made you get into the wheel making business?
MSR: My family always had a fondness for cars, which started with my grandfather, and influenced my father as well. Our family was into the importation of car accessories and performance parts from well-known brands in the seventies, one of which was wheels. We actually had a speed shop before called Trackside, which specialized in high performance tuning. In fact, I think we were the first to install an aftermarket turbocharger in a car in 1976.
The wheel making business started when our Italian wheels supplier FPS asked my father if he was interested in putting up an alloy wheel factory in Asia. At that time, the only Asian country manufacturing wheels was Japan.
AI: What’s the market of your wheels?
MSR: If you take a look at our product line, its more performance oriented cars. Even in the US, where we export our wheels to, our wheels are actually used in motorsport activities by our customers.
AI: Do you make your wheels extra strong for the harsh roads in the Philippines?
MSR: All our wheels are manufactured the same way; they all go through rigorous testing methods that are actually beyond the standards set by the JWL and VIA of Japan, which are requirements for wheels exported to Japan and some countries as well.
AI: Do you think you have influenced the wheel manufacturing industry?
MSR: Yes. We started as the second wheel manufacturer in Asia and were the first manufacturer in Southeast Asia. We were 10 years ahead of Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, who are now major players in the Asian wheel market. Locally, four other manufacturers followed after us. In terms of design, some foreign manufacturers have actually models, which were inspired by our original designs.
AI: What your take on our local aftermarket industry?
MSR: From the time we started, the market has grown considerably. Compared to other markets, our local industry is quite good, as Filipinos like to dress up their cars. However, the market tends to be very dynamic and advanced, that’s why lifecycles for designs tend to be short.
AI: What about the export market?
For commodity wheels made for private labels, our market share has been quite stagnant due to the dumping of wheels by nosedive of prices by Chinese manufacturers. However, in the performance sector, where we have an edge, our market share continues to grow. Especially in the US market, where they are starting to introduces performance-oriented vehicles from Japanese manufacturers.
AI: What’s in store for Rota Wheels in the near future?
MSR: We are actually planning to come out with forged wheels soon. As far as designs are concerned, we come out with 12 to 36 designs a year, so that there is always something new to look out for. We are coming out with more light truck wheel applications, some retro designs and 2 ultra lightweight wheel models for motorsport enthusiasts to support our popular Slipstream model.
AI: What is you most popular wheel to date?
MSR: I would say, the Quake, since it has been in production for several years already. It is an in-house design for our “tuner” wheel variants. And manufacturers from Taiwan to China have copied it. We have produced around 40,000 wheels for this design.
AI: What can you advice potential wheel buyers?
MSR: It is best to look for manufacturing standards of a wheel before buying it. The popular one is the JWL (Japan Wheel License) and VIA (Vehicle Inspection Authority), both standards coming from Japan, which have been accepted worldwide as well. But of course, some unscrupulous sellers might just put these marks on their wheels. So it is best to research about the brand before buying it.
And they also have to remember that not because a wheel is imported it is a better alternative. Some imported wheels may be good, but some may not. My advice is for them to stick with the well-known brands, which have strict quality control measures applied to the production of their wheels.