Buying a new set of wheels can be daunting. If you’re upgrading to aftermarket wheels, then there’s a lot to consider. For people who are shopping for high-quality, performance-grade wheels, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Enkei and BBS wheels.
Both BBS and Enkei specialize in performance OEM and aftermarket wheels. They offer lightweight, high-strength, aesthetically pleasing wheels in the performance wheel sector. They’re a lot more expensive than standard consumer-grade wheels. Both companies have been operating for decades, and they have a lot of respect in the wheel industry.
In this guide, I’m going to talk about both brands. They’ve done a lot for the car world. In this guide, I’ll explain who they are, what they do, some tips for buying wheels, and all about these massive players in the wheel market.
Pronounced as “N K” in English, Enkei is a Japanese titan in the wheel business. They opened their doors in 1950, and they’ve always focused on making high-quality, lightweight, performance-grade wheels.
On their site, Enkei claims to be the number-one aluminum wheel company in the world, and that’s easy to believe. They have a huge catalog, and they make nearly 70,000 wheels every day.
BBS is a high-performance wheel company that started in Schiltach, Germany in 1970. It was started by two guys named Heinrich Baumgartner and Klaus Brand, and they named the company after their last names and the city they started in (Baumgartner, Brand, Schiltach). Thus, BBS was born.
They went public in 1987 and filed for bankruptcy in 2007. After bankruptcy, ownership bounced between a few wheel companies and ended up in the hands of KW automotive GmbH, a company that owns BBS to this day.
OEM vs Aftermarket
With your car’s wheels, you can choose between OEM and aftermarket parts. Most people will stick with OEM options because it’s easier and it’s a guaranteed fit. I want to talk through these two terms because they’ll come up a lot.
OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer”. For a company to offer OEM parts, it means that they have to build all of their parts to tight specs. Honda itself doesn’t need to make the OEM wheels for your car, but the manufacturer needs to go through Honda’s inspection and engineering requirements to label them as such.
When you buy OEM wheels, you’re getting a guarantee that they fit your specific car, since the dimensions will be identical to the wheels that were on your new car when you bought it.
Aftermarket wheels, on the other hand, don’t go through the same regulations. I could hammer away at a piece of metal today and sell it as an aftermarket wheel.
Looking at wheels specifically, the aftermarket options can be hit or miss. Some companies take a lot of pride in their wheels, and they go the extra mile to make the best possible product. Others will opt for inexpensive materials, bad business practices, and make wheels that are untrustworthy.
As a result, most people will shop for wheels based on the manufacturer. If a brand has good credibility and a good track record, then its wheels are probably good.
I can say with confidence that Enkei and BBS both have a very impressive pedigree. They’re reputable brands, and people trust their wheels.
With OEM options, you don’t need to think about your decision. There’s only one choice.
Rims vs Wheels vs Hubcaps
Just so we’re on the same page, I want to quickly define rims, wheels, and hubcaps.
A wheel is the full metal part. It includes the lug nuts, spokes, cylinder, and lip.
A rim is just the u-shaped edge that keeps the rubber tire in place, once installed. The rim is not the face that you see when you look at the side of a car, those are the spokes (which are part of the wheels). People commonly mistake these two terms.
Hubcaps are just aesthetic discs that pop into the hub of a wheel and add some style. They’re typically made of plastic and they’re designed to emulate alloy spokes, and they’re used when a manufacturer uses inexpensive and bland-looking wheels.
Why Your Wheels Matter
Have you ever thought about how important your wheels are? For reference, the wheels are the metal part that contacts your rubber tires.
The rubber tire gets sealed against the metal wheel, and then they’re installed on your car.
Wheels can make or break the final look of your car. Inexpensive wheels can make the rest of your car look inexpensive when you view the car from the side.
There’s something undeniably great about a nice pair of wheels on a car. Even a decent car like a Camry can come to life when you upgrade the wheels. Suddenly it looks like a 5-series BMW.
It can also shift the aesthetic of your car to something sportier, flashier, more luxurious, or something lower profile.
From the side of your car, there are only so many features that have an impact on how the vehicle looks. Your wheels can really sway your car’s aesthetics.
I hinted at this earlier, but low-quality wheels can hurt your car’s reliability. Low-quality wheels can lead to the separation of your tires, or catastrophic failure when you drive fast enough.
On a smaller scale, low-quality wheels can lead to uneven wear across your tires. This will force you to prematurely replace your tires and spend hundreds of dollars that you don’t need to.
It can also lead to wobbling at high speeds, loss of control, and annoying humming noises.
Gas mileage is dependent on the weight of your car. If you strip away weight, you can drive further before you need to fuel up.
This is where making your vehicle lightweight comes in. Since wheels can save you weight, they’ll improve your gas mileage. This can be done through lighter metals, thinner walls, and better-engineered wheels.
Your wheels are tires are arguably the most important part of your car when it comes to performance. Every mod shop I’ve talked to also says that upgrading your tires is the best way to maximize the performance gained while minimizing the money spent. Tires have the best performance-to-cost ratio.
Why? Your tires are the only part of your car that comes in contact with the road. It doesn’t matter if you have a 1,000-horsepower monster of an engine — if your tires are slipping, then you’ll have no traction, and the thousand horsepower will just disappear into the air around you.
High-performance tires unlock a ton of grip between your car and the road. This means that you can accelerate quicker, go faster, take sharper corners, and come to a stop in less distance.
At the heart of all of that is your wheels. If your wheels aren’t perfectly engineered or create a perfect fit, then your tires will suffer. Using bad wheels will cause huge issues as you go fast.
High-quality wheels will let you go faster without running into issues.
Also, the weight of your wheels can change your car’s performance. By reducing the weight of your car, every horsepower has a bigger impact. Swapping four wheels for light options could save you more than 40 pounds across your car.
More About Enkei
Now that you know more about wheels and how important they are, I can talk more about Enkei and BBS. I want to start with Enkei.
What They Focus On
Beyond focusing on manufacturing and optimizing their warehouses, Enkei put a lot of focus on the quality and performance of their wheels. That’s the reason why they can charge so much for a set of wheels in the first place — what’s more impressive is the fact that people will happily pay them for it.
There’s no denying that their wheels are great. They’re lightweight, they fit perfectly, and they look amazing. It’s all thanks to their advanced manufacturing processes.
Their Impression on the Wheel Market
When you say the name Enkei to a car guy, they’ll probably nod their head affirmatively. Enkei has a great track record in the industry, and people really respect their wheels.
They can be found anywhere from entry-level Hondas to Formula 1 cars.
Since they’re more than 70 years old, a lot of people have personal experience with Enkei wheels (myself included).
Their wheels are on the mid to high level of pricing. Since they’re considered performance-grade wheels, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Looking through their catalog, you’ll find wheels that range from $125 each to $625 each. For the consumer market, standard wheels usually cost less than $100 each.
Their Most-Advanced Production Process
Being a Japanese brand, Enkei put a lot of attention into the manufacturing processes that they used. They follow a lot of Kaizen (or Six Sigma) practices and even came up with their own.
One of their processes is called the MAP, or the “most advanced production” process. Maybe the biggest humblebrag in the wheel manufacturing world, Enkei put together a way to rapidly cool their aluminum alloy once it’s put into a mold.
Doing this will optimize the heat treatment of the metal. This results in more durable, more flexible, stronger wheels.
The MAP process is just one of many techniques and advancements that Enkei put together. They focused on having the best manufacturing process, that way their wheels would consistently outperform their rivals.
OEM or Aftermarket?
Enkei has a healthy mixture of aftermarket and OEM options. From my understanding, most of their wheels are used in OEM contexts and the aftermarket options focus on performance and strength.
You can find at least one car in every major car manufacturer’s catalog that uses Enkei as their OEM wheels.
Notable Use of Enkei Wheels
I mentioned that Enkei is the OEM option for a lot of cars, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll also find Enkei wheels on the F1 Vodafone McLaren Mercedes car.
Enkei provides a lot of aftermarket options, but most of their inventory is built for OEM purposes.
More About BBS
As unfortunate as BBS’ history is, it’s just as impressive. Let me talk more about this wheel brand, so hopefully, you can be as impressed as I am.
What They Focus On
Currently, BBS focuses on very high-quality, performance-grade aftermarket wheels. Their inventory looks to minimize weight, maximize performance and offer some of the best-looking spoke configurations around.
The catalog from BBS is more than impressive. They’re typically the top performer in each segment, and among the most desirable on the market.
As a result, their prices are much higher. Their current catalog ranges from $300 per wheel to $2,100 per wheel. For reference, new wheels on a Civic cost less than $100 each.
OEM or Aftermarket?
BBS used to primarily focus on OEM parts, but now they’ve shifted their focus. They want to focus on aftermarket wheels moving forward.
Still, they have a healthy combination of OEM and aftermarket wheels in their catalog.
I should start with the bankruptcies. It’s not every day that someone can talk highly about a company that declared bankruptcy.
BBS shifted a ton of its attention to OEM wheels in the early 2000s. There are dozens upon dozens of examples of stock cars that used BBS wheels.
Auto manufacturers from Chrysler to Bentley and everyone in between wanted BBS wheels on their stock cars. Until that point, they were one of the top aftermarket wheel manufacturers in the world. They made a ton of wheels, the quality was exceptional, and the pricing was fair.
Suddenly, the auto market shifted. People wanted to upgrade to aftermarket wheels, not buy replacement OEM wheels. This happened right after BBS changed over their factories and built up a big inventory of spare OEM wheels.
BBS was left high and dry. This shift hurt BBS, and their stagnant inventory got too expensive to maintain. They had bills they couldn’t pay, so they filed for bankruptcy in 2007 — then they were saved by Belgium’s Punch International.
Punch International funded them, and they continued running for a while longer. In 2015, BBS hit similar troubles after making slight changes in its focus. Again, they had to file for bankruptcy. This time, it was South Korea’s Nice Corp firm that took over and bailed them out.
BBS went back to making premium-grade wheels for a few more years. Then Covid hit and they filed for bankruptcy yet again in 2020. This is now the third bankruptcy.
At that time, KW automotive GmbH gave them the life raft by buying them out. They’re the current owners.
Since the latest bankruptcy, BBS has changed its attitude. They’re supposedly shifting most of their manufacturing efforts into aftermarket wheels and leaving the OEM space.
Notable Use of BBS Wheels
BBS wheels were used as OEM options for Bentley, Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Ford, VW, Crysler, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and many more. They’re also used in NASCAR, Formula 1, WRC, and LeMans.
Really, BBS is deeply ingrained in car culture. That might be why so many companies are willing to buy them out after bankruptcies — it’s hard to imagine the car world without BBS.
It’s hard to think about trustworthy wheel brands without mentioning Enkei and BBS. Both come from countries that focus on high-quality car parts, and the craftsmanship comes through in their full selection of wheels. Both brands are great, and you can’t go wrong with either option.