Inside the world of HRE Performance Wheels, it's different spokes for different folks
“That’s what we start with,” HRE president Alan Peltier says. “Each one weighs 100 pounds. Not much to look at. But when our machines are done, these discs will be trimmed down to 22 pounds and be sculpted into wheels.”
Technically speaking, he’s correct. Emotionally speaking, there’s more going on here.
What Peltier and his staff of 40 engineers, designers and shop workers really create is automotive jewelry prized by car fanatics for personalizing vehicles that otherwise would be indistinguishable from the next one off the assembly line.
Categorize these pricey tire caddies -- four HREs can run from $5,000 to ten times as much for one-off sets -- however you’d like: custom, bespoke, tailor-made. By any name, wheels represent a growing part of the nation’s $27 billion automotive aftermarket: retail sales have increased from $1.2 billion in 1991 to more than $4.5 billion a year, according to SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
The Web brims with aftermarket wheel options, whether through rim-and-rubber bundlers such as Tire Rack or individual companies like Enkei, BBS, O.Z., Kinesis, Fikse and Forgeline. HRE Wheels deals in the upper end of this market, meeting the needs of car guys and gals for whom perfectly attractive factory wheels on their Porsches and BMWs -- and to some degree Ferraris and Lamborghinis) are simply not dashing enough.
“Wheels are special things to car enthusiasts, and ours are not cheap,” says Peltier. “But what we find is that when people come and see what goes into making each wheel, they tend to say, ‘Oh, now I get it.’”
So why aren’t many stock wheels up to enthusiast standards? Peltier laughs: “One of our designers is a graduate of (Pasadena’s) Art Center (College of Design), and he says that for many car designers wheels are like door handles. They have to be there, but they can’t upstage the lines of the car. And frankly, that’s great for us.”
HRE was the creation of Gene Howell, who back in the ‘70s gave his Howell Racing Enterprises products a vaguely European feel by using a logo that features a shield emblazoned with a white-on-red Swiss cross. (Today, because so many customers use manufacturers’ logo caps, HRE etches its name into each wheel.)