Is there such a thing as a UHP winter tire?
Winter is almost here! Sure, that’s what was said last year, but, as we know now, it was one of the mildest, snowless winters ever.
Tire dealers were caught off-guard, which explains why more winter tires were shipped — not sold — in the United States last year than ever before. Not this year. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. estimates shipments will drop nearly one million units.
Canada winter tire shipments peaked in 2008 and 2009 due to the Quebec Tire Law. They are still projected to be higher than U.S. shipments in 2012, says Goodyear.
However, good news is on the way if you want snow. Snow is expected to pick up this year in some parts of the country, according to AccuWeather.com’s winter forecast (see graphic).
“Big snow events may return to a portion of the I-95 corridor of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic as well as the central and southern Appalachians this winter, while wet weather is predicted for the Gulf Coast and Southeast, says meteorologist Meghan Evans at AccuWeather.com.
With that in mind, we wondered how long sports cars, sporty coupes and ultra-high performance sedans might be able to stay on the road in harsh winter areas. We know that V- and W-rated winter tire shipments in the U.S. and Canada increased 230% from 2002 to 2011, according to data from the Rubber Manufacturers Association and Rubber Association of Canada.
So we asked tire manufacturers the following question in order to once and for all separate fact from fiction:
Question: “Realistically, is there such a thing as a UHP winter tire?”
Most of the companies that participated answered yes. There were some qualifications, however. So the final answer is a definitive “maybe.”
Bandi Vaczi, marketing communications manager, Apollo Tyres Ltd.: “Absolutely. With the Wintrac Nextreme SUV, we introduced a Y-rated winter tire.”
Robert Saul, product planner, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: “There are winter products designed to work with ‘sporty’ fitments. These products are designed to deliver remarkable traction in winter conditions while minimizing trade-offs in speed rating and handling. Bridgestone is planning to launch a new performance winter tire next year.”
Bob Liu, product manager for UHP tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: “Yes! Continental has several OE-approved winter tires with V- and W-speed ratings in the ContiWinterContact and ContiCrossContact Winter family of products. Creating a performance winter tire is a very tough challenge, so we dedicate a significant amount of R&D into the technologies for this segment. Our performance winter tires have significantly better snow and ice traction than all-season UHP tires, while providing good performance on dry and wet roads when the temperatures are cold.”
Robert Chew, brand marketing manager, Falken Tire Corp.: “While it does not seem possible, we have designed a UHP winter tire in the Eurowinter HS449. This tire is designed as a hybrid product capable of handling well in snow and ice conditions, as well as dry conditions. The HS449 allows consumers to put on winter tires earlier, and leave them on longer, getting more for their money.”
Mike Markoff, category planning manager, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: “Yes, you can, and we do. We can all attest that summer and winter driving conditions are vastly different in severe winter regions. Thus, a UHP summer tire is optimized differently than a UHP winter tire.
“Goodyear has UHP winter tire products up to W speed rating, such as the Goodyear Ultra Grip Performance 2 and the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D that are intended to deliver sporty handling under severe cold, snow and ice conditions. Our new Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric All-Season tire can be driven year-round through a range of temperatures. It delivers outstanding handling and grip in dry and wet weather conditions while also demonstrating confident snow and ice performance.”
Henry Kopacz, public relations and product marketing specialist, Hankook Tire America Corp.: “Yes. In fact, Hankook currently has a UHP winter tire for sale in the United States. The Winter i*cept evo is a true UHP winter tire designed to meet the needs of drivers that are looking for performance and true winter ability.”
Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.: “Using today’s UHP definition, it is possible to create a ‘V’ rated winter tire, but there are trade-offs to how much handling performance and dry grip you can achieve and still provide high levels of snow performance.”
Doug Brown, brand category manager, Michelin Sport UHP, Michelin North America Inc.: “Yes, there is such a thing as a UHP winter tire as the tire tread compound, tread design and in some cases the speed rating is unique.
“It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to recommend that a split fitment vehicle be fitted with a square application when winter tires are used. Select, and primarily German, manufacturers specify a different winter tire size than may be fitted to the vehicle in summer, as in the original equipment tires. As an example, Mercedes, delivering Sport UHP summer tires in a staggered (different size tires on the front and rear axles) fitment as original equipment suggests using a square (same size tire on all four wheel positions) fitment of the front tire dimension when using winter tires.
“For maximum safety and mobility in winter climates, Michelin recommends the use of winter tires.”
Tom Gravalos, vice president of marketing and OE, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.: “Absolutely, and we can say that because of the number of Pirelli winter tires that high and ultra-high performance carmakers such as Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, to name a few, have homologated on their cars.”
Maxwell Wee, director of sales, Sentaida International Inc.: “Unless we all make a concerted effort to treat the turnpike as a rally venue, the answer is no. However, we have to keep an eye on the ever-increasing demand on higher performance vehicles introduced in the market by the car manufacturers. A decade ago, 6 to 7 seconds 0 to 60 mph was the realm of specialty or performance cars. Now... some economy cars can do that without breaking a sweat.”
Fardad Niknam, senior director of technical services and product planning. Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: “As a paper exercise, yes. There is the possibility to make a UHP tire which works decent in the winter. However, in the practical world, the requirements on UHP and winter products are so different that compromise in one area of performance will make the other one not acceptable.
“For example, for a good UHP tire, you need a solid block-type pattern with a hard compound in order to create excellent dry handling, while in winter tires, you need highly siped tires with a softer compound in order to create biting edges for snow traction. Plus in snowy conditions, we advise lower speed for safety reasons, and UHP tires will not be fully utilized in this kind of condition.”
Andrew Briggs, director of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.: “By definition, speed rating, vehicle application, etc., yes, you can have a UHP winter tire. By practical use, though, the conditions will always play a part in what a given tire can do, on any given day.
“Compounding technology continues to offer improvements, and it’s safe to say that performance is better now than it was even just a few years ago in wintry conditions.” ■