Retail

Green car owners overlook low rolling resistance tires

Ann Neal
Posted on June 3, 2014
Doug Eichten is tire and service advisor at Schierl Tire & Service Center in Marshfield, Wis., where fuel-efficient tires account for less than 2% of sales.

Doug Eichten is tire and service advisor at Schierl Tire & Service Center in Marshfield, Wis., where fuel-efficient tires account for less than 2% of sales.

The U.S. Department of Energy says up to 15% of fuel consumed by a car is used to overcome a passenger tire’s resistance to the road. Studies by Green Seal Inc., a nonprofit environmental standard development and certification organization, show low rolling resistance tires can reduce fuel consumption by 1.5% to 4.5%. Yet consumers shopping for replacement tires tend to focus on longevity and price rather than fuel efficiency.

“Rolling resistance is a non-factor on choosing tires,” says Doug Eichten, tire and service advisor at Schierl Tire & Service Center in Marshfield, Wis. “Guests seem to be hesitant to buy into the rolling resistance or the fuel economy.

“When I talk with a guest about lower rolling resistance and fuel economy, it seems to just go past them. Fuel-efficient tires account for less than 2% of our sales, and that is overstated because the sport utility fuel-efficient tire, the Goodyear Assurance CS Fuel Max, is a better value than the regular tire in the sizes they are sold in.”

Ironically, Prius owners seem to care the least. Eichten estimates less than 1% of his Prius customers are concerned with fuel economy when buying replacement tires. “Most of them are more concerned with how many miles they are going to last.”

Schierl Inc. does business as Schierl Tire & Service Center in six Wisconsin cities. Eichten says the team leaders at all six of the company’s retail locations are in agreement: Few customers want low rolling resistance tires despite their fuel-saving advantages.

Consumers are not asking for fuel-efficient tires in Montana, either. “We see very little customer demand for low rolling resistance tires,” says Jared McDermott, general manager of L.P. Anderson Tire Co. Inc., which does business as L.P. Anderson Tire Factory in Billings.

“Consumers in general seem to have little knowledge about them, and those who have heard of them are typically misinformed.

“They expect a green tire to have a significant impact on fuel economy, and are generally disappointed to hear that the improvements are measured in tenths, not two or three miles per gallon.”

Owners of green vehicles are the exception, he says. “The only demand we see typically comes from customers driving hybrids, and they are more educated about these things than an average customer.

“In general, lower rolling resistance does nothing to help us sell tires in the passenger car and light truck segment.”

MTD survey: eco tires

Eichten’s and McDermott’s assessments echo the findings of the 2014 Eco Tire Survey conducted by Modern Tire Dealer in March 2014. For nearly 60% of the respondents, eco tires make up 5% or less of their replacement tire sales.

In contrast, 3% said eco tires make up more than 30% of their tire sales.

When asked what percentage of their retail customers ask for eco tires, 80% of the respondents answered 5% or less of them do. Not surprisingly, a high percentage of them own hybrids, electric vehicles and sedans.

Close to 40% of the independent tire dealers surveyed said their customers are willing to pay a higher price for eco tires. However, two thirds of those customers aren’t willing to spend more than a 10% premium.

Even customers replacing eco tires often choose standard tires. When asked what percent of customers who come in with eco tires on their vehicles replace them with eco tires, 44% of dealers answered “5% or less of the time.” Another 14% said it happens 6% to 10% of the time. Only 16% of respondents said their customers replace eco tires with eco tires a majority of the time.

Almost two-thirds of dealers said overall demand for eco tires has remained unchanged over the last two years. When asked to predict future demand, 54% said it will remain unchanged over the next two years, while 34% said there will be more demand.

Big and green

Tire manufacturers expect demand for replacement eco tires to grow, especially in the larger vehicle segments.

“OEMs are continuing to demand more fuel-efficient tires for CUVs, SUVs and trucks in order to meet CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards,” says Larry Eckart, OE product expert for Michelin North America Inc. “There isn’t quite as much demand in that category in the replacement market for fuel-efficient tires, but it is growing.”

Henry Kopacz, public relations and social media manager for Hankook Tire America Corp., says North American consumers are taking more interest in fuel-efficient tires. “But consumers in general still place their main focus on traction and tread wear when it comes to selecting replacement tires, whether that’s in the PCR, LTR or winter categories.”

Continental Tire the Americas LLC expects fuel efficiency to become a bigger part of consumers’ buying decisions. “Unfortunately, many consumers still do not recognize the potential benefits of fuel-efficient tires, but through continued education this should improve,” says Sam Dollyhigh, PLT product planning manager.

Anant Gandhi, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, says the company demonstrates its commitment to consumers and the environment through two key consumer tire products in its portfolio: the Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 for passenger cars and minivans, and the Bridgestone Dueler H/L 422 Ecopia products for CUVs, SUVs and light trucks.

“The performance targets for these products place strong emphasis on rolling resistance without compromising any other performance metrics,” he adds.

Bridgestone also created the Eco-Product designation for tires that meet environmentally conscious criteria in construction and have improved rolling resistance.

Jim Davis, manager of public relations at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., said the company considers fuel efficiency or low rolling resistance to be a quality of some tires, rather than a product segment. Continental does not treat fuel-efficient tires as a separate segment either, according to Dollyhigh.

“Instead, we ensure that fuel efficiency is one of our design priorities.  For example, our latest product in the touring segment, the TrueContact, was designed with a strong focus on fuel efficiency in addition to other performance characteristics which we feel are important such as wet braking and tread life.”

Robert Hepp, vice president strategic planning for Nokian Tyres Inc., says the company has concentrated on lowering the rolling resistance of all its tires for many years. The high price of gasoline in Finland, where Nokian is based, has helped make fuel efficiency a performance target for every tire. Gas is currently more than $7.50 a gallon in Finland, according to Hepp.

“Fuel efficiency is always in every tire we are developing. Nokian won’t come out with a specific fuel-efficient tire; all tires are fuel efficient.”

Segment specific

MTD asked eco tire manufacturers for an update on fuel efficiency, products and technology in the winter, SUV, UHP and light truck segments. Here is what they had to say.

MTD: Are you trying to make tires in the winter, SUV, UHP and light truck segments more fuel efficient? Why or why not?

Gandhi, Bridgestone: We strive to continue to improve fuel efficiency without compromising performance characteristics.

Dollyhigh, Continental: We are making our tires more fuel efficient for two reasons. A fuel-efficient tire increases the number of miles a vehicle can travel per gallon of gas. Due to the additional miles per gallon, our customers will save money. Secondly, the improved fuel efficiency means there are less CO2 emissions into the atmosphere per mile travelled.

We believe this is becoming increasingly urgent and is an important growth market.  The OEMs have long required low rolling resistance tires for OE fitments.  Our partnership with these manufacturers has resulted in the development of many of our advancements towards improving the fuel efficiency of the tire.

Davis, Goodyear: Goodyear continues to incorporate low rolling resistance and fuel-efficiency technology into many of its existing auto tires. Our target is to continue to engineer tires with an optimum balance of key performance attributes: wet grip, tread wear and rolling resistance.

Kopacz, Hankook: Rolling resistance and fuel efficiency is always one of our performance targets. Tire fuel efficiency is one of the main criteria required when developing original equipment patterns for our vehicle manufacturer partners.  

Jim Knowles, OE product expert, Michelin: Almost all OE tires are moving in the direction of better fuel efficiency. The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) regulations have restrictions regarding the maximum rolling resistance level allowed. The first phase of these restrictions started in November 2012. The second, more challenging, phase of these restrictions starts in 2016. This will prohibit tires from being sold in Europe that have high rolling resistance. All of our Michelin UHP summer tires are ECE-marked, which allows them to be sold in Europe.

Matti Morri, manager, heavy tires technical customer service, Nokian: We have been focusing for several years on materials, compounding, tread designs and constructions to lower rolling resistance on all our products. This has been a very important tool in markets in Europe. A year ago, the Nokian eLine achieved the top AA rating on the European Union tire label for best rolling resistance and best wet grip in the summer tire category. We are focusing on raw materials and environmental friendly options.

Steve Carpino, vice president, research and development, Pirelli North America Inc.: We are making tires in these segments more fuel efficient. This is being driven today by the OEMs in the SUV/UHP/LT segments as part of their vehicle fuel economy targets. In the consumer replacement market, the same benefits of reduced fuel consumption can be seen in the newest range of products. These products use much of the same technology found in the OE products.

MTD: What is your latest fuel-efficient product for these segments?

Gandhi, Bridgestone: The Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 for winter passenger cars and minivans features an improvement over the WS70 for fuel efficiency, which comes mainly from the optimized construction and the optimized contact pressure/footprint of the tire. In addition, we offer two Ecopia products for passenger cars, minivans, CUVs, SUVs and light trucks.

Dollyhigh, Continental: Our latest products are TrueContact (standard touring), PureContact (luxury performance touring) and CrossContact LX20 (crossover, SUV and truck).

Davis, Goodyear: The Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max is a tire with focused fuel efficiency that provides confident wet and dry traction. A fuel-saving tread compound helps reduce energy loss. Available in 67 sizes, it fits about 80% of passenger cars on the road, along with many SUVs and crossovers in the Assurance CS Fuel Max version. It offers all-season capability.

Kopacz, Hankook: Late last year, Hankook announced the launch of the new Dynapro HP2 SUV/CUV all-season tire. This tire will be available to consumers later this year. One of the main areas of focus during the design and engineering of this tire was fuel efficiency. 

Morri, Nokian: Our latest product in the winter range is Nokian R2 SUV, where we have one of the lowest rolling resistance available. The latest studded product is the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 SUV with new cryo-silane compound combined with a next-generation winter silica. That new tread compound together with a new pattern design guarantee excellent wet/ice grip and the lowest rolling resistance on the market.

MTD: What is the latest technology for improving fuel efficiency in the winter, SUV, UHP and light truck segments?

Gandhi, Bridgestone: We strive to incorporate the latest and greatest components that are lighter, stronger and more technologically advanced to create more fuel efficiency. Once any of our new products achieve our stringent threshold for rolling resistance improvement as well as the other criteria without compromising performance characteristics, we utilize our eco-products designation to communicate to the consumer our promise of fuel efficiency and quality. 

Dollyhigh, Continental: EcoPlus Technology is Continental’s latest technology for improving fuel efficiency. EcoPlus Technology consists of specialized polymers and silane in the tread compound. The specialized polymers cause less energy to be lost to heat, thus improving fuel efficiency. We are able to maintain our excellent wet braking and long mileage in this proprietary tread compound. Energy can be lost in other areas of the tire besides the tread compound so we are focusing on construction technologies. 

Davis, Goodyear: Along with key OE fitments on the most fuel-efficient cars, development work continues on various low rolling resistance and environmentally friendly tires with distinctive rubber compounds using special ingredients such as silica, bio-fillers, functionalized polymers and more.

Kopacz, Hankook: Hankook recently announced its technical partnership with Lanxess, the world’s largest synthetic rubber supplier, to develop synthetic rubber for our products. One area of focus will be on developing rubber compounds which provide improved fuel efficiency.

Knowles, Michelin: New technologies include advanced silica tread compounds that provide low rolling resistance plus high levels of traction, and optimized carcass construction to keep the tire running cooler.

Morri, Nokian: We use in all our tires more and more silica-based tread compounds. That together with new silanes gives great winter properties and lowers rolling resistance.

Carpino, Pirelli: Much of the latest technology is coming in new polymers, silica, nano fillers and special chemicals and new methods of processing these materials. The new materials are engineered to add the targeted performance required. The rolling resistance reduction with these new materials must be achieved while maintaining, or even improving, performances in the other areas such as wet/dry stopping distance, tread wear, steering response and snow traction.   ■

To read the entire May 2014 issue of Modern Tire Dealer, click here!

Related Topics: Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, Continental Tire the Americas LLC, Going green, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., green tires, Hankook Tire America Corp., Michelin North America Inc., Nokian Tyres Inc., Pirelli Tire North America

Ann Neal Associate Editor
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