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Wet ‘N’ Wild

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Wet ‘N’ Wild

When it comes to wet weather tires, the story is simple. One tire manufacturer created what was termed as the first dedicated rain tire line, and other tire makers followed suit. But, the evolution of the rain tire hasn’t stopped there.

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The ability to evacuate water quickly has always been an expressed need for consumers. Whether it be through one channel or two, or by some other method, getting the most water out from under the tire by the fastest way possible has given engineers plenty to work on over the years.

And, as they’ve worked on perfecting the technology, they’ve also been sealing the fate of the dedicated rain tire line.

Although it seems like a paradox, it’s the evolution of wet weather technology that has led to the end of a dedicated rain tire line as we know it. Tire makers have long realized that the need for wet traction is an important one. However, manufacturers have also realized that asking consumers to drive simply on a rain tire is not feasible.

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Consumers need more out of their tires than advanced handling in the rain. The tires also need to respond well in dry, snowy and off-road conditions, just to name a few. So, instead of leaving the wet traction technology by the wayside, why not incorporate it into various tire lines? That’s exactly what tire makers did.

Meeting Consumer Needs
"Since Goodyear pioneered the Aquatred in 1991, the company has recognized the importance of traction on rain-slicked roads," said Bob Toth, marketing manager at Goodyear. "Wet traction and safety are two important characteristic consumers want in their tires. This desire has not lessened. In fact, it has intensified."

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That intensity has led to the addition of wet tire technology into other passenger tires, thereby creating tire products that are safer in a wider variety of conditions, which, in turn, makes them more attractive to consumers.

But, as is often the case with any technology, the more you add, the more you lose track of.

Is the wet weather technology present in multiple tire lines lost because of more advanced technologies, such as run flats? While the science is still very useful, has the rain tire been eclipsed by more specialized, high-profile technologies? Or, has the wet weather tire segment been, in essence, "rained out?"

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The answer is a resounding "no."

"The wet traction tire segment still is growing and represents Goodyear’s premium line of tires," said Toth. "Although the company’s run flat tire is recognized for its run flat capability, the Eagle Aquasteel EMT tire uses two aquachannels to evacuate water. The Eagle F1 GS EMT uses aquachannels for improved wet traction. Even the rotation-free Wrangler RF-A light truck tire provides an aquachannel."

Other companies agree, taking a necessary technology and integrating it into multiple lines.

"The wet weather tire has not been "rained out,’ but for Bridgestone/Firestone, rather than offering a sole-purpose wet weather tire, the attributes of wet weather performance have been incorporated into tires with multiple performance capabilities," said Susan Sizemore, public relations manager for BFS. "We have applied our unique technologies of UNI-T and UNI-T AQ to some of our most popular tires, such as the Firestone FT70C. This offers the consumer the best in wet weather performance, good mileage, good handling and a quiet ride."

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Tire manufacturers have started moving their development dollars away from creating of any form of dedicated wet weather tire line, believing that customers want and need tires that fulfill a multitude of requirements.

"The wet weather tire concept really never worked to the full extent. The reason is that customers really want tires that work as well in the wet as they do in the dry," said Rick Brennan, Yokohama’s director of strategic planning in marketing. "They want all-season capability all the time."

Serving Various Masters
The trick, it seems, with wet weather tires, is to build a tire that a) does everything, and b) doesn’t wear quickly. Shorter tire life has always been a problem with rain tires, and that’s something manufacturers have had to deal with, as well.

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"Our testing has shown that a rain tire’s hydroplaning resistance advantage diminishes considerably as the tire wears down and approaches that of a reg- ular touring tire at 50 percent wear," said John Pecoraro, manager of product marketing for Cooper Tire. "Many manufacturers, including Cooper, have dropped their rain tire lines because of lack of sales."

To combat premature wear, many of the tire makers have thrust their efforts into developing new compounds that can handle all the demands of wet tire technology.

"Changes in compounding and technology have made it possible to develop tires that provide long mileage, but are still pliable enough to provide excellent wet weather traction," said Brennan. "Special groove shapes that are now used in tires have increased the water drainage capability of these tires.

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"For example, Yokohama uses precisely engineered grooves for this purpose in several of its products, including the AVID H4/V4 and the AVID T4. The need today is for a tire that does everything well, including wet traction and hydroplaning resistance."

Sunny Disposition
Just as with snow tires or off-road tires, the location of the dealership might determine how many, and what types of, rain tires are carried. A dealer in a dryer climate certainly isn’t going to need to carry a lot of wet weather tires.

"Obviously, this type of tire has little appeal in areas that have little rainfall, like the southwest," said Pecoraro. "A rain tire’s design focuses primarily on resistance to hydroplaning. Because of this, winter traction may suffer, making it not the best choice in areas where snow traction is more important."

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But, if a dealer is located in a region that sees significant rainfall, what types of wet tires should he carry? Or, is a dedicated rain tire even the right way to go for his customers?

"For the local markets that experience year-round wet weather conditions, a true rain tire does offer security," said Tom Garcia, product planning manager at Continental General Tire. "But it’s more of a "feel good’ condition. It gives the consumer specific piece of mind that they are buying a dedicated rain tire."

Cooper’s Pecoraro concurred. "An all-season design, incorporating good wet traction, acceptable hydroplaning resistance and winter traction is a good compromise that suits most tire dealers and customers in the lower 48 states.

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"Most all-season designs offer acceptable hydroplaning resistance. Our Classic II does an especially good job in hydroplaning resistance while offering good snow traction performance."

The Selling Science
When it comes to selling rain tires, naturally what a dealer is selling is the technology. But in reality, safety is what makes the sale of wet weather tires. Customers are always concerned about safety. That’s what brings them into the shop looking for effective wet traction.

To a driver, there’s nothing worse than the feeling of hydroplaning. The vehicle is still in motion, propelled across a thin layer of water, but the driver has absolutely no control. That feeling may last for only a second or two, but that’s long enough. So when a customer walks into a dealer looking for some type of wet weather tire, the dealer must be ready to act.

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However, tire dealers have to be careful about overselling a rain tire. Going all out to give a consumer the most advanced wet weather tire available may not be in their best interest.

"A key to marketing wet performance is to use it as one feature of the tire, not necessarily the only feature," said Brennan. "Selling wet performance as a plus that does not reduce other performance characteristics will be well-accepted by consumers today."

That sentiment seems to be echoed around the tire industry. Wet technology is a tool to be utilized, but it’s clearly not the only tool available.

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"The key to selling these tires is communicating the multiple attributes of the tires. They perform well in various conditions, based on the technology Ñ not just in wet weather," said Sizemore.

A Little Isn’t Enough
Being able to communicate tire attributes requires one tiny, little detail. Knowledge of the tire.

"Education, education, education. Dealers need to communicate the attributes of these multi-dimensional tires," said Sizemore. "This is done by understanding the products, the engineering and design behind the products, and even testing the products themselves."

Much of what a dealer can learn comes from the manufacturer. Who better to teach about the product than its creator? Dealers can learn a great deal by taking advantage of training programs, market research and the manufacturer’s sheer knowledge of the product and the marketplace.

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Once a dealer and his salespeople know the products like the back of their hands, they then have to make sure the customer understands and appreciates a rain tire line’s complete capabilities.

"Goodyear’s expertise in the wet tire area also has helped our marketers to differentiate Goodyear," said Toth. "Aquachannel technology facilitates the selling proposition for our dealers. Our retailers need to stress the water evacuating capabilities of our tires and show consumers how the tread achieves improved wet traction.

"It’s a fairly simple demonstration that our retailers need to revisit. Aquatred II is an excellent tire to demonstrate how water is removed from underneath the tire’s footprint because of its wide, deep aquachannel and sweeping lateral grooves that literally pump water."

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Future Technologies
In the end, the dedicated rain tire line wasn’t dedicated enough to handle everything that everyone wanted. Tire life was shorter, handling in non-wet conditions wasn’t up to par. Changes had to be made.

"Technology has increased to the point where the significance of the "wet weather only’ tire capabilities did not make up for the loss of other features like even wear," said Brennan.

"Currently, you do not see any new wet weather tires being introduced to the market. This would indicate that new product launches are being geared more to a combination of features and benefits, rather than just wet traction," he said.

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"Wet capability technology has moved forward however. Compound technology now allows for better wet traction in combination with dry performance characteristics. The future is an all-season-like tire that works as good in the wet as a rain tire and provides long mileage, low noise, good ride comfort and dry and snow traction."

That’s not to say that all rain tire lines have been wiped out. They still exist, just as a smaller niche that’s part of a greater whole.

"Right now, at Continental General, the true rain tire is still a niche product that will have smaller consumer demand and little market growth," said Garcia.

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"Yes, tire technology and design and compounds all do a better job of evacuating water, and today’s all-season tire performs nearly equal in identical conditions."

The fact is, consumers still have to travel down wet roads. There’s no getting around it. A tire that can evacuate water quickly will be a high priority among drivers, since reliable wet traction translates into increased safety. While the dedicated rain tire line is slowly fading away, the technology will continue to improve.

"The future of the wet traction tire has never been brighter," said Toth. "Goodyear continues to develop concepts that take wet traction to the next level.

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"Climate changes around the world, in which rainfall comes in more frequent heavy downpours, also makes these types of tires necessary to resist hydroplaning. Look for more of these concepts to reach the marketplace in the future."

Other manufacturers agree, citing strong consumer demand for better wet traction and the tire maker’s willingness to incorporate rain technology into multiple tire lines.

"Wet weather performance will continue to be a primary concern among consumers," said BFS’s Sizemore. "But we believe that there will be a decline in dedicated wet weather tires as the technology is successfully assimilated into multi-dimensional tires."

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