Technology sells tires today ... what's in the pipeline will make tomorrow's products better for both dealer and customer.
Whether you’re a tire retailer that sells service, or a service centre that sells tires, consumers have never been tougher. Multiple brands, mass-media advertising, the Internet and more manufacturers with OE fitments mean consumers have access to lots of knowledge. Much of it is incorrect, misleading or based on false assumptions. Getting past the voodoo and into your customer’s mind takes extensive product knowledge, as well as price and size data. Each tire maker has a portfolio of technology, and is branded with acronyms, buzzwords and marketing slogans. Here’s a small sampler of tire manufacturer technology that’s hot this year, to give you a sense of what’s out there and what trends are coming in the future.
Japanese consumers are legendary for their appetite for high tech and Bridgestone- Firestone shows a little of the firm’s Asian heritage with perhaps the industry’s biggest use of branded technologies as a marketing tool. Bridgestone has never been afraid of acronyms, and this season’s new “Turanza with Serenity Technology” uses several:
“Mid-End Grooves” -Improves noise and helps prevent irregular tread wear.
“High Angle Lateral Grooves” – Helps avoid hydroplaning.
“Silent C-S-C” -Helps absorb noise even as the tire wears.
“Asymmetric Cavity Shape” – Reduces vertical vibration and improves handling.
Bridgestone’s Ever Black anti-browning technology carries over from previous models. Noteworthy is the progress of size creep. This broad line premium starts at P195/65R15 and goes up to 275/40R19 XL. Tempo owners are out of luck.
In terms of long range R&D, the firm is introducing a new run-flat technology that may change the way “extended mobility” tires are made and broadening their application. At this stage, Bridgestone is simply calling it “COOING FIN” technology, and it’s simple in concept. Carefully shaped vanes or fins molded into the surface of the tire’s sidewall break up the laminar (smooth) flow of air over the surface. The turbulence caused by the fins generates vortices or eddies that transfer heat to the air flowing past the sidewall. Since heat is the major killer of under inflated conventional as well as run-flat tires, Bridgestone expects that the technology will allow run-flat technology to spread to high-aspect ration rubber for crossover/ SUV and minivan applications, and to reduce or eliminate the need for very rigid sidewall construction in passenger tires. Bridgestone has not announced the retail launch of the technology, but based on patent applications and a global media push to announce “COOLING FIN,” it’s safe to assume that it’s in the pipeline. Does this finally mean the end of the spare tire?
Hanover-based Continental Corporation has made a major push into North American markets, with a new emphasis on the replacement market following recent OEM fitments on mainstream nameplates like Ford. The firm’s flavour, however, is distinctly European, and as such, Continental recently announced that the new Volkswagen Passat CC launches with OEM self sealing Continentals with the firms “ContiSeal” technology. A protective layer on the inside of the tread immediately seals holes that develop when objects up to 5mm in diameter puncture the tire. According to Continental, the 5mm design criterion accounts for about 85 per cent of all typical flat-causing punctures. The tread is borrowed from the firm’s ContiSport- Contact 3 high-performance tire.
Self-sealing tires aren’t new, so why is this tire significant? The OE fitment requires 250km/h speed capability, and the current sizes are 235/45 R 17 W or 235/40 R 18 W. Replacement rubber will also need to be self-sealing, and at these sizes and volumes, it’s possible that Continental may “own” this fitment. How will consumers react to more and more vehicles without alternate aftermarket replacement tire choices? It’s an increasing trend that’s moving from exotics into mainstream sedans.
Goodyear is coming off a series of technology- driven new product announcements centered on premium broad line and high-performance product. The firm’s major broad line launch, TripleTred/ComforTred, as the name implies, is focused on tread innovations, but sidewalls are resurfacing. Goodyear is using aramid (Kevlar) and carbon fibre in tire sidewalls. The Akron-based firm’s new Eagle F1 Asymmetric, for example, uses the aramid reinforcement on the inner sidewall, called “Active CornerGrip Technology”. According to Goodyear, the different inner-and outer-sidewall construction maintains a more even tread contact pressure on the road. The composite sidewall construction appears also on other Goodyear premium tires. Watch for expanded use of alternate materials in the sidewall as well as the shift of asymmetric tread patterns down into broad line premium products. Some premium touring allseasons will bypass asymmetry entirely. Why? Tires that have significant OE fitments are generally not asymmetrical because that makes them directional, which adds assembly line time and cost. As fully automated auto plant mounting and balancing evolves, look for more directional, asymmetric treads on “bread and butter” sedans.
Rolling resistance is the enemy at Michelin, who announced in October that the firm would invest $US6.8 million on an R&D project aimed at cutting rolling resistance in half. Operated by Michelin’s research arm in South Carolina with Clemson University and its International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), the threeyear project will develop new materials and manufacturing techniques. The work will begin immediately and is set to be completed over the next three years. Why rolling resistance? Tires can absorb 20 per cent of the energy needed to drive a car, and up to 30 per cent for trucks, making tires a logical place for manufacturers to squeeze a little more fuel efficiency out of their vehicles.
Michelin goes into the spring season with a new version of the firm’s MXV4 tire called Primacy MXV4. The technology parade for this high-volume broad line product is branded two ways: “Advanced MaxTouch Construction” is advertised as a “unique shape and tire design” that allows a 100,000 km tread life warranty that extends to H- and V-rated sizes. “Michelin Comfort Control” technology describes the tread design and unspecified (which often means secret) manufacturing technologies that reduce vibration and road noise. “Active Sipes” are said to lock and unlock selectively for enhanced wet and snow performance, although all-season tire winter performance is usually aimed at more temperate U. S. markets.
Sometimes, however, there are important innovations in places you rarely notice. At Michelin, a new commercial truck tire features a “self regenerating” tread. The XDA5 drive tire for Class 8 trucks uses tread blocks molded in three dimensions, meaning that as the tire wears, an entirely new tread pattern emerges as concealed sipes and grooves appear. The potential is obvious for broad line consumer tires: equivalent dry grip levels throughout the life of the tire. Will this technology show up in light vehicle tires? Michelin isn’t saying, but the larger light truck sizes aren’t too different from the XDA5’s smallest 275/80R22.5 size. Stay tuned.
Toyo is banking heavily in motor sports as a sales driver of the firm’s hightechnology products, which include numerous low-profile offerings. Toyo, perhaps as a result of their grassroots road racing focus, has designed street products that tilt heavily to the port side of the performance/wear equation. A radical example that may point to the future is the Proxes R1R, which is promoted by Toyo in the U. S., but not Canada, at the moment. The tire carries a racy UTQG or 140 AA A, suggesting a seriously soft compound in the silica-enhanced tread rubber. The tire is built with Toyo’s “T-Mode Design Technology” and has high steel side plies in some s
izes as well as the increasingly common (in high performance tires) spiral wound cap plies and jointlesss bead wire. The Proxes R1R is not only extreme performance, but has some unique properties that all dealers should know about regarding cold weather operation. In a word, don’t. Toyo makes the following recommendations:
1. Do not operate the car (in freezing temperatures) with these tires, as the tires may suddenly fail.
2. Always store these tires indoors at temperatures above 32F (0C).
3. Before mounting or dismounting, store these tires for at least 24 hours in a temperature-controlled environment of 68F (20C) or warmer.
4. Remove these tires from the vehicle and deflate to half the normal air pressure during prolonged periods of non-use or storage.
5. Do not move a car that is in storage with these tires, as the tires may crack.
For the demanding customer that wants ultra-performance rubber, special procedures like these will demand more from dealers, even when handling stored tires in the off season.
This could be an interesting driver of winter tire sales for high performance cars with the dealer driving the seasonal changeover as a necessity rather than a convenience. And with mailorder and a strong Canadian dollar, the weekend warriors/auto-crossers may opt for these tires in Canada, too.
Can “green” technology sell tires? Yokohama thinks so, and has developed an environmentally friendly combination of citrus oils and natural rubber to create “Super Nanopower Rubber.” According to the company, SNR can reduce the amount of petroleum in tires by 80 per cent. Part of the Tokyobased firm’s EcoMotion environmental program, the technology debuts in a new consumer tire named Decibel Super E-Spec which launches in Japan later this year. Besides the novel nano compound, the tire reduces rolling resistance by 18 per cent and uses an inner liner with an “air permeation suppression film” which the company states will reduce the natural tire pressure loss over time. Yokohama has not announced a launch date for E-Spec tires in the Canadian market, but as with Bridgestone’s new concept, the media push suggests that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. In tires you can buy today, however, Yokohama’s new summer high performance S. drive dips into the ADVAN technology pool and extracts a silica-based tread compound that uses ADVAN nanotechnology for high flexibility without the usual penalty associated with soft compounds, high wear. Under the tread, jointlesss rayon belts as well as jointlesss nylon edge and cap plies work with two steel belts. The new tire will eventually replace the AVS ES100. It’s a classic strategy: use premium tire technology in a lower price platform to leverage both ends of the market.
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