How does orange oil make tires better (at least in the minds of Yokohama Tire Corp. researchers)?
There is a laundry list of legitimate chemistry and compounding reasons, deep level science only the most nerdy among us could understand. And then there is one special reason.
Believe it or not, YTC R&D folks confess, it’s magic.
How apropos it was, then, to hold the official media launch for the new orange oil-infused Avid Ascend in Orlando, home of the NBA’s Magic and Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Don’t be mistaken, the tiremaker has put more than 30 years of research into how orange oil – rather, a resin produced from orange oil – reacts with natural and synthetic rubber, and how it creates unique, stronger molecular bonds that give researchers new ways to modify and enhance performance characteristics.
The magic is that YTC engineers simply never expected how well it could work.
According to Pat Keating, manager of technical engineering, Tire compounding revolves around three basic options: traction, treadwear and rolling resistance. There are others, like ice/snow grip, braking, etc., but the primary three are the basis for all others.
When it comes to developing a tire, Keating said, the old rule was to choose to focus on one characteristic or blend compounds for two of them, or average it out for all three – the ultimate compromise.
Orange oil resin, Keating said, allows the characteristic “triangle” to get bigger, giving tire engineers and chemists more options to tweak performance.
What it all adds up to, YTC said, is a tire with lower rolling resistance and greater traction and longer wear.
For the March 14-16 event, media members drove fuel-efficient Toyota Prius and Ford Focus models from downtown Orlando down to Sebring International Raceway, which was hosting the season-opening “12 Hours of Sebring” American Le Mans Series event that weekend. Yokohama was participating as a tire supplier, unveiling its new ENV-R2 slick, featuring (you guessed it) orange oil resin.
Unusual for Florida, the two-hour drive was bone dry, but the varied roadway did allow drivers to gauge noise and comfort, as well as handling and (thanks to confused vacationers) braking. The seat time with engineers and training staff gave media the chance to ask more questions about the product, process and positioning.
YTC defines the Avid Ascend as a “grand touring all-season tire,” which places more emphasis on handling and high-speed capabilities than a conventional touring radial. At the same time, “The Ascend’s orange oil technology creates a compound resulting in a perfect balance of extended treadlife, all-season handling and great fuel economy,” said Dan King, YTC senior vice president of sales and marketing.
The touring segment of the replacement market is growing, said Bob Abram, YTC product planning manager, so the Ascend is focused on that market, particularly the H- and V/Z-rated end of the spectrum. Abram made his presentation in a live orange grove at the 2,500-acre Showcase of Citrus, a working orange grove and cattle ranch in Clermont, Fla., about 45 minutes south of Orlando.
The tire carries Yokohama’s highest UTQG ever at 800AB for T-rated sizes, and 740AA for H- and V-rated sizes. T-rated sizes carry an 85,000-mile limited treadwear warranty, while H-rated sizes get 75,000-mile coverage and V-rated models carry a 65,000-mile warranty.
The Avid Ascend was released to the market as of March 1 in 45 sizes covering 15- through 18-inch wheel diameters, and YTC officials said four more sizes – 205/65R16, 185/55R15, 235/60R18 and 235/50R19 – are coming by year’s end.
Yokohama did not give any information on retail pricing, but did note that the Ascend will be more expensive than its other lines. This, YTC said, was because the tire “incorporates all of Yokohama’s latest technology,” including a rounded footprint to optimize the contact patch for long, even wear and traction; an interlocking, tapered center rib for stability and even wear; Yokohama’s adaptive 3D siping across the entire tread face, which increases block rigidity and improves all-season traction over the life of the tire; deep circumferential grooves and cross grooves to evacuate water efficiently and add grip for winter driving; cross supporting shoulder blocks that aid both traction and handling; tread block “bridges” to help reduce tread squirm for even wear and reduced road noise; and a multi-pitch tread design to reduce noise.
“The Ascend’s orange oil technology creates a compound resulting in a perfect balance of extended treadlife, all-season handling and great fuel economy,” said King. “All this and a quiet ride, too. Today’s drivers can now expect more from a touring tire than ever before – an accomplishment made possible through Yokohama innovation.”
In real-world terms, Abram said, orange oil resin has delivered measurable results. Not only has its use allowed YTC to offer high treadwear warranties, its own fuel efficiency testing showed the Ascend can deliver more miles per gallon than competitive models. With gas prices approaching $4 per gallon (at the time of the event), Abram noted how consumers would see an appreciable difference.
Based on its own testing, YTC said the Ascend delivered 17,000 miles more treadlife than an unnamed “conventional touring tire,” and 6,000 more miles than the recently discontinued Michelin HydroEdge. In fact, based on how many times YTC drew parallels between the Ascend and Michelin products, it would seem that YTC is targeting Bib with the new tire.
In fuel efficiency testing against the HydroEdge, YTC claims the Ascend saved 58 gallons of fuel, or $204 in gas (based on $3.50 per gallon), over the 80,000-mile expected life of the tire.
The tire will be entirely produced at YTC’s plant in Salem, Va., and the orange oil resin for the tires will be imported from unnamed suppliers in Asia, YTC said.
Orange Oil in Racing
While at Sebring during practice sessions for the ALMS opener, YTC took the opportunity to announce a three-year extension of its sponsorship of the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. The deal keeps series racers on the new Yokohama ENV-R2 orange oil-infused race slicks through the 2015 season.
On hand for the announcement was Scot Elkins, IMSA COO and president of the ALMS. “IMSA has recognized Yokohama as an innovative company for many years, and they have a rich history in sports car racing in the U.S. They have fully embraced our initiative to be the global leader in green racing and the ENV-R2 race slick is a testament to Yokohama’s commitment to that mission,” he said.
In addition, the second generation ENV-R2 will be run in the ALMS GTC class in 2012, YTC noted.
Andrew Briggs, YTC director of product planning motorsports, said the orange oil-infused Advan ENV-R1, which debuted in 2009 at Sebring, was the world’s “first environmentally-friendly tire used in a racing series.”
Normal racing tires contain little or no natural materials, Briggs noted, but the inclusion of orange oil in the first generation ENV-R1 “increased the renewable, natural content to 15%.” The next gen ENV-R2 “increases it to 20%,” he said.