When your customers buy tires, their purchase mainly comes down to two factors: cost and warranty.
But the Michelin Group is looking to change that.
The French tiremaker is convinced that long-lasting performance should be a factor in not only how dealers sell tires, but also how consumers shop for them. And, they say, testing long-lasting performance on worn tires should be an industry standard.
“The technology exists to design tires that perform well in wet conditions, even when worn,” said Tom Carter, Michelin North America’s technical communications director for product marketing. “It’s a matter of choice and design.”
In a two-day event, the company’s North American arm tested its hypothesis with members of the media at its home base, the Laurens Proving Grounds just outside Greenville, South Carolina. Its mission? To show that testing worn tires can determine their long-lasting performance and help customers save money, the environment and stay safe in the long run.
After all, most tire testing is done on new tires. But the minute the consumer leaves the shop with new tires on their car, they enter the worn tire category, said Andy Koury, Michelin’s brand director for its North American market.
“Tires are the only thing that touches the ground in a vehicle,” Koury said, “we want the industry to optimize that to bring safety to drivers.”
At the event, a wet braking and wet handling course allowed participants to test worn tires against new ones and compare the results of Michelin tires against its competitors. To mimic a worn tire feel, Michelin buffed tires to 3/32s of tread depth.
Participants drove vehicles on worn Michelin tires, new ones and competitors’ tires in new and worn states on a wet braking and wet handling course. In the wet braking course, stopping distance was measured for all four vehicles. Results showed Michelin tires stopped sooner when new and when worn against competitors.
“This is a call to action,” Carter said after showing each group’s results on its wet braking course. “You can design a tire for long-lasting performance… We need to measure this across the industry.”
The (Not-So) Secret Sauce
For Michelin, the design of a tire – from its tread compounds to contact patch – is what it sees as the recipe for long-lasting performance.
“You have to start with it engineered right, and you have to have the right mixing (in a tread compound,” Carter said.
One aspect of an adherent tread compound is having good wet traction, Carter said. Silica is the main element used in tread compounds to achieve that, and it can also contribute to a tire’s rolling resistance.
Another factor is a tire’s tread pattern, which can be designed with grooves that evacuate water and biting edges that allow it to go through water with ease.
A third is a tire’s contact patch. Carter said a rounder contact patch gives a greater level of wet traction and more even tread wear over time than a rectangular contact patch.
Depending on how a tire is designed, all three of elements over the lifespan of a tire can still be present even when worn, Carter said. This means, he said, that tread depth may not be a good indicator of performance over time.
“When you get down to those wear bars you need to replace your tires,” Carter said. “But if it’s not designed to perform safely down to the tread bar, we think that’s a problem. There’s an onus on the manufacturers to design and manufacture tires so that they perform well down to the tread wear indicator.”
Selling Long Lasting Performance
So, as a tire dealer, you have interactions with customers who need new tires daily. But if long-lasting performance becomes an indicator for measuring tire life in the U.S., how will this help your business?
“Dealers are very concerned about repeat business, and they’re very concerned about the total consumer experience,” Carter said. “They (customers) walk out (of the shop) and they start using the product. The high can be the showroom and then it can decrease. But customers in the long run, they’re not so interested in price. They’re interested in what their experience is after they have the product…. And they will come back if they have a good experience.”
And in the long run, buying a tire on long-lasting performance could save customers money, according to Michelin.
For every tire that is removed early, a customer wastes $25, Michelin says. And each year, 400 million tires are wasted by early removal, which has significant environmental impacts in the long run.
Michelin believes that its tires’ long-lasting performance is a selling point, and is in the process testing and validating its tire lines, Bruner said.
But the event was just the start of a dialogue it wants to start across the industry. Michelin believes all customers are entitled to information about long-term tire performance at the point of purchase, no matter which tire they buy.
“That may or may not be a Michelin tire, but they need to have information about how a tire performs down road,” Bruner said. “It’s a safety consideration from the point of view of our organization.”