"Winter tires are not snow tires,” Joerg Burfien, director of research and development for Continental Tire North America Inc. (CTNA), said during the company’s ride-and-drive event near Montreal, Quebec, last month.

When many consumers think of winter tires, they think of snow, according to CTNA officials. But in North America, 70% of winter driving is done on clear roads, not snow-packed roads, said Travis Roffler, CTNA director of marketing.

Winter tire performance, he explained, is based on temperature. The tire manufacturer says winter tires should be put on vehicles when the temperature drops to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. CTNA plans to aggressively promote that concept.

“Even in dry road conditions, if you go below 45 degrees, the properties of a winter tire will be better than an all-season tire,” said Burfien. “The temperature is what promotes the change to winter tires.”

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The “45 degree rule,” according to Roffler, “is all about safety. We feel it’s better for the consumer. Winter tire performance starts at 45 degrees.”

CTNA hopes other tire manufacturers will embrace the concept in the spirit of promoting safety.

CTNA also provided an update on its winter tire product line during the Montreal event. It will add 26 sizes to its General Altimax Arctic winter tire line for the 2009-2010 winter season.

Among them will be LT sizes, plus a number of sizes for SUVs and crossover vehicles, said Roffler. Sizes will continue to be directional, which CTNA believes is “more palatable” to the average tire buyer. (By contrast, CTNA’s Continental brand winter tires boast asymmetrical tread designs.)

The Altimax Arctic is currently offered in 26 sizes, ranging from 13 inches to 17 inches in diameter. “Winter tire sizes proliferate at a (slower) rate” than the rest of the passenger tire market, said Roffler. “The tough point is ‘Can we identify sizes that are viable? Is there enough of a market volume (for a size) to justify building it?’”

One concept CTNA does not promote is plus-sizing winter tires, said Roffler. “If you’re at that level of vehicle, you’re going to park (that vehicle) for the winter.”

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