Feature September 1, 2012 by
By Michel Poirier-Defoy, Editor L'automobile
New Products Coming this Fall
Automotive experts are speculating on what the top vehicle models will be at the upcoming SEMA Show taking place Tuesday-Friday, October 30-November 2, 2012, in Las Vegas, Nevada. With predictions for the SEMA Award ranging from traditional muscle cars to brand-new models, anticipation is high as to which vehicles actually take the top honors. "The SEMA Award highlights the makes and models that are trending strongly within the specialty market," said Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. "With each booth vehicle representing a 'vote,' the winners clearly tell us which cars and trucks are the hottest this year." Last year's SEMA Award winners were the Chevrolet Camaro in the car category, the Fiat 500 in the sport compact category, the Ford F-Series in the truck category and the Jeep Wrangler in the 4x4-SUV category. Experts agree that traditional favorites such as the Camaro, Jeep and Ford F-Series will continue to have a strong presence with vehicle customizers. However, many are keeping a close eye on the all new Scion FR-S as the frontrunner to win the Hottest Sport Compact award. Here's what some industry experts are saying: "In our booth, we will have a 2013 Scion FR-S, because we know that it will be a huge part of the SEMA Show." - John Hotchkis, president at Hotchkis Performance "Judging from what's going on this year, I expect the Scion FR-S platform will be very popular at this year's SEMA show. We're building one and I hear a lot of companies are in the process of building them, creating tremendous horsepower and adding a lot of different great applications." - Eddie Lee, general manager at Mackin Industries "I believe this year's show will have a large contingent of pro touring cars, which have gathered huge interest in the past couple of years. However, there is a new crop of ultra high-tech vehicles coming out. There will be a small group of these new wave vehicles throughout the show that are truly breakout vehicles that will be must sees."
Pirelli is one of two tire companies in the world whose tire research and development is ongoing, and was one of the leaders in tire innovation throughout the last century. The Milan-based firm did wonders with its Cinturato, had little competition and was involved in every form of motorsports. Not very long ago, having a red and yellow Pirelli Fitment guide was close to having all the answers at the tip of your fingers. Those who attended the famed Pirelli University enjoyed a long career in the tire business.
By 1990, times had changed and Pirelli did not rule the top spot anymore. Japanese tire manufacturers stormed into the market with solid tire innovations and a new business philosophy. Then tire producers from everywhere joined the fast rising global market over a span of 20 years. Every large corporation in the world relies on its leaders and projects that bond the working force: Pirelli was no exception. The Italian firm started a spirited comeback a decade ago and now sits as one of the Top 3 in the tire business.
It first started with a financial cleanup. Pirelli went public and became a profitable company to its shareholders. Tire R & D kept the labs working and Pirelli set its sights on new markets as offices were opened and plants built or bought in China, Romania and Russia. New business coming from a company with such brand awareness is bound for success. Using state-of-the-art Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) Pirelli delivers more than nine million tires only from its two new facilities in Russia.
Motivating the troops was easy when Pirelli came back to motorsports, especially earning the F1 contract. The plant in Turkey manufactures the precious rubber along with the tough WRC rally tires, those of Superbike, GP2, GP3 and many series like the Ferrari Challenge and World Challenge. The former director of the Turkish plant in Izmit, Andrea Pirondini, now the direttore in Russia, told SSGM how much supplying the most famous racing circus was a challenge for the design team in Milan.
This new era triggered the return of Pirelli among the top tire companies. The level of research and development has never been so high and has marked benefits, seen in the quality of the products now being produced; and while ranked 5th in the world, Pirelli is looking for a place on the podium by 2020.
First Launch in Russia
With production growing by leaps and bounds in the ex-USSR, it was a perfect fit to have the first modern era tire launch in St-Petersburg. Only a few days before the Australian GP, media was greeted by F1 local hero Vitaly Petrov. Next day, American rally racer Ken Block entered the picture at the helm of a Ford Focus ex-WRC. All this was because two new Pirelli products will take to the roads next Fall. However, somebody had decided there was an embargo that prevents us from naming the tires. Why fly somebody halfway around the world to have him review the tires a few months later for retailers about to fill their winter tire orders in the coming weeks? So, read between the lines.
First of all, launching a tire in a Nordic country around a ski resort was not the proper place for a sports car shod with UHPT. We were driving back and forth from our hotel and using the Igora Park facility for skidpad, slalom and hillclimb – yes the ski mountain itself. We were steering Cayennes, Rovers, X5s and M-B. The tire was impressing on all counts, on dry highways, on sheer ice and in deep melting snow. We spoke with the engineer in charge of winter products, Jaap Leendertse, and learned it is a whole new generation of product, stuffed with new technology and materials. We even learned that the next-gen version is on the drawing board.
The second winter tire was not for SUVs only, but more mainstream and a long list of dimensions. There is something of a trend around the world, and Pirelli, like some of its competitors, is presenting a studded application. The name was familiar but the product pretty different: we long to test that tire on Canadian roads. Now, before filling your orders for winter tires, phone your Pirelli rep for more details.
Russia is quickly opening its frontiers and culture to visitors and there is a lot to witness for a North American. The rich Tsar period can be witness at the Hermitage Museum, worth all the Louvres and Smithsonian of this world. But more can be learned talking with its people. Waiting for a red light to change, there was a BMW X6 on my left and on my right two guys tinkering under the hood of an old Lada. The mamouchka (mother) is still darkly dressed and seldom smiles. On the other hand, the dadouchka – daughter – wears tight jeans and high heels, sends SMS on her cell phone, listens to rock, chews gum and eats at McDonald’s. Russia, just like Pirelli, is in fast forward.