Leap of Faith: Growing Data May Help Combat Fleet Concerns About Super Wides - Tire Review Magazine

Leap of Faith: Growing Data May Help Combat Fleet Concerns About Super Wides

Growing Data May Help Combat Fleet Concerns About Super Wides

With today’s ever-climbing fuel prices, a tire promising immediate fuel savings of 2% to 10% should be coveted by every commercial trucking fleet in North America.

But that’s not yet the case.

Super wide tires – extra-wide, low-profile tires designed to replace the traditional dual configuration on fleet trucks with a single tire – have been around for more than five years now. And, evidence supporting their real-world benefits continues to build.

Still, super wide tires – also called “singles” or “wide-base tires” – have yet to earn serious ‘street cred’ among many commercial fleets.

Michelin North America (MNA) is the biggest proponent of super wide tires, stating that fleets that convert the standard 16 drive and trailer axle tires on a tractor-trailer combo to eight super wides will not only save some 1,000 pounds of revenue-producing weight but also encounter less rolling resistance and, as a result, measurable fuel savings of 4% to 10%.

Don Baldwin, product marketing manager for commercial truck tires at MNA, says hundreds of fleets – and thousands of trucks – are currently using MNA’s X One super wide tires. In fact, Baldwin claims that sales of X Ones have doubled every year since their introduction.

MNA says it is adding super wide production capacity to keep up with demand and is even planning to introduce super wide tires to other segments besides commercial fleets. This summer, the tiremaker will introduce an X One tire for the on/off-road segment, and in August, a new X One for recreational vehicles will make its debut.

The X One isn’t the only tire of its kind available. Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire’s (BFNAT) Greatec series and Continental’s HTL1 also fit the super wide tire definition.

Toyo had previously said it was developing a super wide tire, but as of press time, the company didn’t have any new developments.

Goodyear says it has developed super wide tires but prefers to market its commercial tires featuring its Fuel Max technology instead. “The market for our Fuel Max commercial tires is much larger than for super singles,” says Dave Wilkins, public relations manager for commercial tires at Goodyear. “Therefore, we have no plans to introduce super single tires at this time.”

The Evidence

Fleets are generally a tire dealer’s most discerning, conservative customers, and they want hard data to back up their purchasing decisions.

Fortunately for dealers, evidence supporting the benefits of using super wide tires continues to grow. The U.S. EPA supports the use of these tires by fleets as part of its SmartWay Transport program, which offers incentives to fleets for fuel efficiency improvements and emissions reductions. By 2012, the initiative is targeting fuel savings of up to 150 million barrels of oil per year.

The EPA writes: “Recent tests of wide-base tires indicate a potential fuel economy improvement of 2% to 5%, compared to equivalent dual tires. By using wide-base tires, a combination long-haul truck could save over 400 gallons of fuel per year.”

The government agency offers one caveat, however, by acknowledging that retrofitting existing trucks with these tires may not be cost effective. “However, for new trucks, the payback is instantaneous,” the EPA states. “In addition, fuel savings begin immediately.”

Last October, Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI), a long-haul carrier based in Joplin, Mo., was awarded the EPA 2006 SmartWay Excellence Award, and the fleet gives most of the credit to its super wide tires.

“The Michelin X One improved fuel mileage by two-tenths of a mile per gallon,” says Bruce Stockton, CFI’s vice president of maintenance. “With fuel at $2.65 per gallon, that saves $4.4 million annually.”

CFI’s entire fleet of 2,400 tractors is fitted with X Ones. By the end of the year, one-third of CFI’s trailer fleet will use the super wides. Stockton forecasts an annual fuel savings of $9 million after retrofitting the trailers.

The Roadblocks

Nevertheless, roadblocks to mainstream acceptance remain. And, the better commercial tire dealers understand these roadblocks, the more prepared they will be to counter them.

With costs coming from every angle, over-the-road fleets are a conservative bunch when it comes to investing in “new” technology.

Adding to this general skepticism are additional concerns about lack of limp-home capability, fears about tire availability and doubts about multiple retreads.

And, a quick search of some of the most popular online trucking forums reveals additional concerns about state regulatory problems and the stress super wide tires supposedly place on bearings.

To help alleviate fears of immobilization and downtime resulting from tire failure, BFNAT says its Greatec uses a 90-degree “waved belt,” which is reportedly stronger than a standard belt, and its innerliner and ply-end construction are said to reduce air seepage.

For the European market, Bridgestone added the “Aircept system” to the Greatec line. In the event of a sudden loss of air pressure, the Aircept system inside the tire expands and supports the load. Currently, Aircept is only available in Europe, but BFNAT says testing for the North American market is ongoing.

Michelin X One tires feature InfiniCoil technology, which, according to Baldwin, helps stabilize the tread area and make the tire less sensitive to pressure changes.

Baldwin also argues that “availability is getting better every day” and that there is a good selection of retreads at Michelin Retread Technology (MRT) sites. Both Bridgestone Bandag and MRT say they have developed specific techniques to retread super wide tires.

Regarding regulatory concerns, Baldwin says that five states currently have inch-width laws designating maximum weight per inch of width on commercial tires. Although super wide tires (the new generation) have lower aspect ratios, they are the same diameter of the duals they are designed to replace, says Baldwin. “They are not narrow tires under high pressures and loads,” Baldwin states. “Our customers are working with state governments right now to push for more studies.”

The EPA, also, is quick to point out that “the new generation of wide-base tires has a section width of up to 17.5 inches, so these tires comply with pavement weight laws in all 50 states.” The agency does, however, add that “for some non-tandem axle combination trucks, wide-base tires may not comply with ‘inch-width’ laws in certain states.”

According to the EPA, “initial U.S. tests indicate these tires cause no more damage to roads than standard tires do.”

What about fleet concerns over possible bearing damage? While the EPA says that “the shift in wheel-bearing load position could stress and prematurely shorten the life of certain wheel ends,” Baldwin says he is not aware of any customers reporting bearing problems. And, CFI’s Stockton has no complaints.

Beyond government studies, tire manufacturer claims and even end-user experience is the tire dealer – the one ultimately responsible for alleviating fleet concerns.

Baldwin compares the introduction of super wide tires to that of radials. “Radials took a long time to be adopted by the industry, and they were niche products at first.” As time went on, Baldwin says facetiously, “the niche got bigger.”

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