I want to get into some technical detail on alloy wheels and how this pertains not only to performance but your personal safety. I have been in the automotive high performance world since 1990 and I have seen every wheel trend come and go over the years. Back 18 years ago 20 inch wheels were the fad along with Spinners but those DUB days have come and gone quickly for the mass market. You can not blame these innovators in the industry for trying to reinvent the wheel per say because as consumers we are always looking for the next best thing or something that differentiates our choices from the masses. As the trends have cycled away from chrome wheels to the new hot trend of matte and gloss black even OEM manufactures have taken aim at earning buyer awareness on the showroom floors. Wheels can make or break a cars aesthetics in so many ways. A proper set of wheels can also transform a mundane boring car into an aggressive modern masterpiece. The objectives we all have are always simple, we want style, value and performance but the most important thing consumers never even bother asking is what about safety?
Safety in regards to automobile engineering lies on two halves of active and passive but they equally go hand in hand. Anything that has to do with hardware of any of the active safety of a vehicle lies on a few key components, tires, wheels and the braking system. If any of these areas of discussion are compromised in any way it can lead to fatalities for you and your loved ones. OEM Manufactures these days make wheels of various forms and construction. Some of the upper end brands such as Ferrari and Porsche are incorporating forged and magnesium wheels for their supercars where as the majority are still using the loose sand cast methods. Sand casting has been around since the industrial revolution and I had the honor to visit one of the oldest foundries in the USA many years ago for a project we were involved in with one of my other companies. The process is simple, cheap and offers good repeatability but at a trade off. The trade off’s to loose sand cast wheels are the heavy weight, increased porosity and a much greater chance for fatigue and cracking. Radial runout is also an issue with sand casting due to poor manufacturing tooling done overseas. Living and driving in the NYC area I am well versed in dealing with rim bending and failures my entire adulthood and as I later learned more about wheels it just emphasized how important wheel construction is for any car on the road today.
Here is a simple explanation of how rotary forged wheels are manufactured.
As you can see above the rotary forged wheels start out using the standard loose cast method as all wheels do for our industry. What changed in this process is instead of them making a full fixture mold for the wheels face and barrel they re-engineered the mold to be cast with enough material for spin forming while the face profile and design is fully loose cast. Spin forming is done with heat and applied pressure using hardened rollers and a special sequence of a CNC programmer per design and shape. The rollers take the hot annealed aluminum alloy and stretch and shape the barrel and outer flange area. Technically this spin forming is called rotary forged but the term is often misunderstood. The benefits to this are simple and effective at creating new designs with much lighter weight. Every one of these wheel manufactures on the market today will stress and emphasize that rotary forged wheels are just as good as a true forged 1 piece Monoblock wheel. That is false and anyone that understands metallurgy and engineering will argue over such statements to consumers. As a consumer you can not expect to know all the nitty gritty of wheel construction but it is the misleading marketing that gets tossed around through all media channels that causes quite a stir. The advantages to this new trending technology are outstanding for the mass market but not so much for the smaller high performance motorsport segments. By adapting the rotary forged technique to the cast wheel manufacturing these alloy wheel companies are able to offer cutting edge styles for cars that were not possible unless you went to a custom forged wheel. By making the wheels look better, lighter and more affordable the trend of rotary forging is here to stay and should only get better as technology progresses. The mass market of customers driving their cars on the street make up 95% of this market share where as the remaining 5% fall into the higher end luxury and motorsport segments. Not many consumers today with the rate of inflation or practicality can afford or even justify the investment in a true forged wheel. I totally get this because the benefits of a true forged wheel will only be experienced by certain individuals and their needs. Having a set of $15,000 HRE wheels on your BMW M3 that cruises around town is clearly for the looks and status and those same looks can be achieved with a rotary forged wheel for about $2000. With basic economics you can understand why this new rotary forged marketing and manufacturing process has truly dented the forged wheel industry. Customers now are shifting to these brands of wheels because they are much better quality than cast wheels of the past, lighter, look great and offer great value.
Living in NY and knowing how bad it is to drive here I have an easier chance selling a rotary forged wheel that if a customer damages it he is not going to cry over spending $300 to replace it. Now spending $1800+ per wheel for a custom high end forged wheel will otherwise put a serious dent in your wallet time and time again. Also the downtime for a repair or replacement is minimized with a rotary forged wheel and many of my customers purchase spares always when ordering their initial set as I advise them to.
Here is an ultra light rotary forged wheel with a cracked spoke face from one day at the race track. This is what wheel resellers are not explaining to you.
As highlighted above even though the rotary forged wheels are lighter and in many cases stronger than a traditional cast wheel the main structural section of the wheel is the spoke face and hub mounting pad. This section in all rotary forged wheels is still a loose cast by design. Think about this carefully, even though the wheel is 1 piece construction it is manufactured using 2 different processes to give the finished results. In a conventional Monoblock Forged wheel the blanks of billet are forged under thousands of pounds of pressure to change the molecular structure of the aluminum alloy making it stronger and less prone to fatigue stress. This is not the case with a rotary forged wheel and anyone misleading this to a consumer is not being an honorable salesman. When it comes to the mass market a rotary forged wheel will satisfy a majority of the custom car crowd without a hitch. For owners of high performance vehicles we all want that quality but never thought it was possible to get it at an affordable price point.
Wheel companies are abundant these days and only a select number actually manufacture their own. What does this mean? Well most wheel brands out there blasting themselves on social media are just that, marketing companies. They spend the time to create cutting edge content and persuasive marketing tactics that really lures them into their brand and lifestyle. I have to say some of these companies are very clever and do an outstanding job marketing.
Now I want to introduce you all to something never before thought of in the forged wheel industry. Somewhere along the lines a group must have come together to realize the market shift in the custom wheel industry. As rotary forged came to market and it being here to stay consumers can get all of their needs met at a fraction of the price. But, there is always a BUT because owners of high performance cars still demand the quality of a forged wheel and most of us do not care about the fancy marketing and BS, we just want a quality wheel. Many consumers do not realize that almost all vendors in this industry are buying their forged aluminum blanks and spun barrels from the same manufactures all over the globe. These companies are also CNC cutting their wheels on the same HAAS Lathes and Mills and they also are using the same finishing techniques across the board. What I am trying to say there is nothing truly proprietary to making forged wheels, it is the marketing and brand identity that dictates the high cost of admission. Some brands cater to different audiences and some do not. Brands such as HRE are the premier luxury forged wheel manufacture and that is because the company has been around for almost 30 years doing it before anyone else. A partner of our shop Forgeline specializes in motorsports and they do not do the explosive marketing for retail as other brands do with videos and cool movie clips. I never understood why but in a highly competitive marketplace having your niche is a good thing and they clearly defined their niche in motorsports. Forgeline is one of my favorite brands out there and they are good friends of mine for years and I only offer HRE and Forgeline wheels to my customers because I can trust their quality every single time. Having a lighter and stronger wheel not only enhances your performance though braking, handling and acceleration but it also lends itself to a higher level of safety to the driver and passengers. A rim failure is more than skin deep and can be catastrophic. Forged wheels are CNC cut from a solid piece of 6061 aluminum giving the wheel more structural integrity, allows the ability to customize the offsets and offers greater consistency between each wheel in terms of radial run out. The forged aluminum wheel will bend instead of cracking in the event of a severe impact. The physics of bending is important because the wheel damage will be localized to the area of impact and increase the chance you can safely stop the vehicle or get off the track. With a rotary forged wheel a crack becomes a total failure where the hub separates from the spokes of the wheel and can lead to accident or injury.
With the introduction of amazing American sports cars from brands such as Ford and GM opened new doors for a price sensitive consumer to want a custom set of forged wheels for their cars. Not many Mustang and Corvette owners can afford or even think about spending $12-15k on a set of HRE but they might be interested in an $8k set of Forgelines. As I mentioned above about this secret group of wheel partners who must have come up with this idea of taking the forged process and shifting it offshore to Taiwan to save on the labor rates and inflation. From seeing whats going on within this industry they are able to deliver a high quality product for almost half of what the premier brands are offering. We must take into consideration these new brands are new to the game and they are growing steady but they are making such an impact right now that even I am working with one myself to have a set of wheels made for my GT350. Not because I have anything against my other partners but because I want to dive into the experience of dealing with such a company for my own experience to see if they can truly deliver the goods and quality as what they say they can. If this goes as planned and it becomes Auto Fanatic approved I will be exclusively offering these options in my web store soon to pass along a quality forged wheel option.
Raw 6061 Billet Slugs become the medium for the forged wheel manufacturing process.
Inside the Taiwan factory for Signature wheels shows the same sophisticated CNC cutting machines used by all top tier wheel manufactures.
A forged monoblock custom wheel about to have it’s face CNC Milled into the unique design of the customers choice
Each finished wheel is inspected and finished by hand with exacting precision before colors and protective top coats are applied. The attention to detail is greater during this process.
Stick around to my social media platforms as I decide on a new set of Forged wheels through a newcomer to the market Signature Wheels. These guys are doing things right and their customers are taking their performance cars to the track and I see it all day long online. Proving your confidence in your product is what sells and Signature Wheels is on top of their game. I hope you all enjoyed this story about wheels and gain some clarity on the various offerings and solutions out there for your needs. Wheel shopping can be stressful but make sure you become an informed consumer and understand your ultimate needs and wants that works for your budget and application. If you plan to track your car hard do yourself a favor and buy a set of forged wheels and leave the rotary forged stuff for the street guys. Your safety should never have a price tag, just remember that.
Here are forged Monoblock Signature Wheel that weigh a mere 20.5lbs, you can not get much lighter than this for performance gains guys.