All Cued Up: Planning Done, Q Tires Looks to Launch Unique Line in 2008 - Tire Review Magazine

All Cued Up: Planning Done, Q Tires Looks to Launch Unique Line in 2008

Planning Done, Q Tires Looks to Launch Unique Line in 2008

On the face of it, Q Tires’ patented, deployable “studs on cue” technology gets consumer attention. After all, who wouldn’t want enhanced traction on-demand, especially when facing snowy or icy roads?

Getting the attention of potential investors and the tire industry has been much tougher. Armed with only drawings and a novel concept, Q Tires pushed hard over the past few years to raise even $8 million in capital.

They made the most of it. Today, Q Tires has real tires (which have passed FMVSS139 safety testing), a DOT number, production deals in place, and has added tire industry expertise to its management team.

The next major hurdles? Raising another $10 million in capital and finding retail dealers willing to take on its unique, transformable all-season radial – because if all goes according to plan, the fledgling tiremaker’s first products will hit the U.S. market sometime next year.

It’s been a long ride for Mike O’Brien, whose original idea for on-demand tire studs came some 14 years ago as he struggled to put chains on his tires. He tinkered with his retractable steel stud concept for years, came up with a workable design and formally created Q Tires in February 2005.
Knowing he needed some tire industry connections, O’Brien opened an R&D facility in Akron (which has since been moved to the company’s headquarters in Greenville, S.C.) and hired ex-Michelin executive Roy Bromfield as CEO in May 2006.

At the same time, O’Brien and his charges had to create a market for a non-existent product, even to the degree that Q Tires helped change stud-use laws in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Nevada, and is working with several other states to change their stud laws.

As complicated as all that sounds, the basic “studs on cue” concept is relatively simple: use a tire’s inflation pressure to raise and lower steel studs – 120 of them per tire – located in the tire’s grooves. When activated, the studs barely extend above the tread face, enough to provide the desired traction boost, but not enough to cause excessive wear to either stud or road surface.

The execution, of course, is a bit more complicated – complex enough to require a two-phase manufacturing process.

According to Bromfield, Q Tires’ goal is to make it easy for the driver and provide a year-round radial tire that can deliver added ice and snow traction when needed.

At first glance, a Q Tires tire looks like any other all-season radial. And it performs like any other M+S-rated tire – until a driver needs something more.

When facing tough winter driving conditions, the driver need only push a single button to activate the system. The transmitter sends an RF signal to each tire, opening a special valve for precisely one second to allow air from the main chamber to inflate a secondary chamber between the tread and belt plies.

As that secondary chamber inflates, the studs are pushed upward, immediately adding to the tire’s tractive properties. When fully extended from the tire grooves, the studs do not extend above the tread face, said Bromfield. As the tread elements are flexed and compressed under load, the studs are exposed just enough to add grip on ice and snow.

When the driver no longer requires stud-aided traction, they push the remote button a second time, allowing the air in the secondary chamber to escape into the atmosphere. The chambers relax and the studs retract to their original position.

About that lost air pressure: Q Tires has calculated that it would take 25 activation/deactivation cycles for the tire to lose 3 psi. So, yes, owners will have to pay a bit more attention to their inflation pressure.

Q Tires’ RF system uses a rolling code – like garage door openers – so that Q Tires owners don’t accidentally activate each other’s tires.

Other than the ability to enhance traction in difficult conditions, Bromfield said, the tire will look and act like any other all-season radial. Bromfield said Q Tires is targeting 50,000 miles of tread life, and the tire will sell for 30% more than “a premium all-season tire.”

For the dealer, installing a set of Q Tires radials won’t take extra effort, other than installing the RF receiver/valve unit – which is a valve-stem-based unit, much like today’s TPMS sensors.

And that means consumers with direct, valve stem TPMS sensors won’t have TPMS capability if they buy Q Tires units. Band-mounted and indirect TPMS systems will still function.

Long-term, Bromfield said, the company plans to integrate TPMS into its RF receivers, but has no firm timetable. For now, he said, Q Tires will target non-TPMS cars and light trucks/SUVs.

The tire itself is being produced in two phases; the first builds and cures the basic carcass while the second adds the belts, secondary chamber and tread.

Q Tires has set up a joint venture plant with a tire company in Qingdao, China, which has constructed a plant for the second stage of Q Tires production.

Bromfield says Q Tires doesn’t want its product to be compared with traditional studded tires, winter tires or even high mileage all-season tires. “It is a completely different animal,” he said, and its sales and marketing will be different, too.

Q Tires plans to go directly to independent tire retailers, he said, bypassing wholesalers, and the retailers will be granted exclusive regions. Mass merchants and mail order won’t be considered for distribution, he said.

While the number of regions that will be available remains to be seen, obviously Q Tires will focus on the traditional winter tire markets of the country.

And Q Tires will only be sold in the U.S. – for now. Bromfield said the tiremaker will tackle the U.S. in 2008, then begin adding Canadian dealers for the 2008-09 winter season.

As for sales outside of North America, Bromfield said that at some point in the future, the company may consider a licensing deal with a European maker.

Initially, Q Tires will launch sometime in 2008 with 10-12 popular sizes for passenger cars and light trucks/SUVs. Bromfield said additional sizes are planned, but there is no timetable yet.

For the moment, it appears that years of planning will bring a new tire concept to the market.

And Bromfield and his team hope that it will gain the attention of dealers – and consumers.

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