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Touring tires: Low rolling luxury

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Touring tires: Low rolling luxury

Touring tires fit a unique category of consumer tires. While they combine a performance tire’s low-profile handling with a premium tire’s softer ride, they also have all-season capabilities. Because of this, they are often called performance touring tires.

Today, manufacturers of touring tires are keeping busy. Five years ago the emphasis was on high speed ratings and performance characteristics with no decrease in ride comfort. Today, high-speed, performance and comfort are still demanded. But so is low-rolling resistance and enhanced fuel mileage.

“The touring tire segment is actually made up of at least two sub-categories,” says Conal O’Neill, senior manager, pricing and administration at Falken Tire Corp. “The standard touring tires category (mostly made up of S- or T-rated, 60-, 65- and 70-series applications), has been active for a number of years and is relatively mature. The performance touring tires category mirrors the current high/ultra-high summer performance lines available in both size applications and performance ratings.”

O’Neill says in the coming years, touring tires will continue to grow in size applications available and number of units sold. And many tire manufacturers have seen growth in the area of tires with higher speed ratings.

“Current trends in the touring tire segment are: higher speed ratings – V and W; lower aspect ratio sizes; and, larger rim diameters,” says Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing for Kumho Tire USA. “An example is the Mazda 6 Touring model – 235/45R18. The trend is expanding the SKU counts of the touring category of tire lines.”

According to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s Web site, the luxury touring segment has evolved within the premium passenger segment, and vehicle specifications have changed. H-speeds are becoming standard, while V-speed ratings have become increasingly popular. Goodyear says there is growth in the touring segment, defined as those tires with a design emphasis on driver comfort, ride and handling. The numbers appear to back that up.

“The luxury touring tire segment, where Michelin’s Primacy MXM4 is a strong competitor, saw significant growth in 2010. Through May 2011, the segment continues to see strong growth, though it has slowed with the slower-than-expected overall economic recovery, concerns about energy prices and sensitivity to continued high unemployment,” says Martha Burwell, Michelin North America Inc.’s passenger car marketing manager. Whether or not the economy improves, the touring tire segment will likely evolve. As it does, manufacturers will keep pace with the changes.

“What once were two very distinct market segments have converged over the last few years,” says Tom Gravalos, Pirelli Tire North America’s vice president of marketing and original equipment. “Historically, touring tires had a smaller wheel diameter, bigger aspect ratio, narrower cross section and generally were S- and T-rated only. Today we are seeing bigger wheel diameters and everything from S- to V-rated tires in the category.”

In addition to size and speed rating evolution, Gravalos says Pirelli has seen performance improvements that provide better fuel economy, traction and durability.

Tiremakers serving this market must have the ability to develop and introduce these improvements, driven by consumer demands and the OEM’s need to improve fuel economy.

“Overall, the trend is looking like a continued slight decline due to the previous and ongoing push from the OEs for higher speed ratings and larger rim sizes,” explains Chet Plewacki, Yokohama Tire Corp.’s consumer product manager. “However, the segment is still large and is trending towards larger rim sizes that are showing up within the touring segment as well.”

But higher speed ratings and larger rim sizes are just the beginning. With the recent eco-friendly movement, tiremakers are being pushed to make fuel-efficient tires with low-rolling resistance. That demand has migrated into the touring category as well.

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“The current trend is fuel efficiency,” says Julie Porter, product manager at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC. “Consumers are looking for all the characteristics they expect in a traditional touring tire, plus the added benefit of fuel savings.”

The awareness of fuel efficiency isn’t focused only on the environment. Rising fuel prices push the demand for fuel-efficient tires. Also, increasing tire prices are fueling the demand for tires that last longer.

“In the last several years, companies have started to push the envelope in the touring tire segment,” says Jay Spears, technical product manager, Continental Tires the Americas LLC. “With the increase in fuel prices, the awareness of fuel efficiency has pushed tire manufacturers to provide low-rolling resistance tires specifically to the touring segment.”

Spears says most major brands have introduced some sort of eco tire line. The lines offer well-rounded performance with an emphasis on fuel efficiency. That emphasis is expected to continue. In the next few years, the expectation is that the touring segment will slowly become the “eco” segment for most companies. Good fuel efficiency will be the expectation for a lot of consumers.

“The current trend that we see in the touring tire segment is an increased focus on lower-rolling resistance and improved fuel economy,” says Henry Kopacz, Hankook Tire America Corp.’s public relations and product marketing specialist. Kopacz says consumers are becoming more aware of the economical and environmental benefits of low-rolling resistance tires.

Continuous improvements

Today’s touring tires offer improved rolling resistance and fuel efficiency, higher speed ratings and wet and dry performance. But consumers are demanding even more from this segment, and manufacturers are delivering.

“A trend that we are seeing is an increase in the blending of SUV and passenger sizes into a crossover utility segment,” says Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s Product Segment Manager Bruce Sanborn. “As vehicle manufacturers continue to develop new vehicles in the crossover segment, the lines of traditional SUV and passenger sizes become harder to define. CUVs have the ride, comfort and tread design of a traditional touring tire but the sizing of an SUV.”

Sanborn says this trend has put an increased emphasis on 17-inch and larger tires. It has also put a focus on fuel efficiency through low-rolling resistance technology.

“Within the value arena, the touring segment continues to focus on mileage longevity coupled with all-season performance,” says Joshua Simpson, vice president of marketing at Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. “Meeting the original equipment fitments’ performance characteristics has become more of an expectation than an exception.”

While consumer expectations continue to place demands on tiremakers, some don’t see great activity in this segment.

“Everybody seems to have their own definition on what a touring tire is. I think it’s a dying term. Most manufacturers have merged HP and UHP products with T-rated to form a power line that consists of 60 to 80 sizes,” says John Aben, vice president, sales and marketing for Nexen Tire America Inc. “Consumers today are shopping price and the speed rating is not as important.”

As manufacturers track consumer trends in touring tires, the changes continue to add up. As they do, there seems to be plenty of room for optimism in the market.

“This is a relatively new category for the tire industry with many manufacturers recently adding lines that fit into the performance touring designation,” says Falken’s O’Neill.

“This category will grow as the benefits of a blend between performance, ride comfort and tire life grow in importance in the view of tire purchasers.”

What are the latest touring tires?

With all the trends in the touring tire market, manufacturers are challenged to keep up with consumer needs, OE demands and technological advances. The latest touring tires on the market reflect these challenging requirements.

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Bridgestone Ecopia EP422

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC says the Ecopia EP422 is one of its quietest tires. Compared to the conventional Bridgestone Turanza EL400 it replaced, it has improved its rolling efficiency 36%. When developing the Ecopia EP422, Bridgestone engineers created a balanced tire that maintained the features consumers expect, while improving the fuel economy.

Continuous ribs maintain traction and a quiet ride. The Fuel Saver Sidewall compound lowers rolling resistance by returning more energy back to the tire, instead of generating heat, than a normal sidewall. The tire is built with 5% post-consumer recycled materials in the tread compound. The Ecopia EP422 is available in 29 sizes, 15 – to 18-inch rim diameters, and is T-, H- and V-speed rated.

ProContact with EcoPlus

Continental Tire the Americas LLC’s ProContact with EcoPlus technology is designed to save on fuel costs, last long and protect the environment without sacrificing performance.

EcoPlus Technology consists of two main components, Tg-F Polymers and Plus Silane. The Tg-F polymers are temperature-activated functional polymers that increase compound bonding, improving the wear and fuel efficiency of the tire. Plus Silane is an additive that enhances the tire’s grip on slippery roads to reduce stopping distances. These technologies work together to provide excellent wet braking on slippery roads.

Available in a T-speed rating with a UTQG rating of 600 AB, this tire is available in a variety of 15- to 18-inch sizes to fit a wide range of vehicles for fuel-conscious consumers.

Cooper CS4 HV touring tire

The CS4 HV touring tire from Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. features R-Tech construction that provides enhanced tire performance. Cooper engineers employ variable density nylon technology to resist flat spotting for improved ride quality and balanced, even tread wear for long life.

The four-rib tread design incorporates features that provide good stability, traction and tread wear. The chemically coupled silica and carbon black compound allows for superior wet traction without sacrificing tread wear, says Cooper. An optimized polymer matrix allows the compound to remain pliable at lower temperatures while contributing to lower rolling resistance.

Other features include a smooth center aqua channel, extra-wide secondary grooves, an open shoulder design, tapered circumferential sipes and a wide tread arc. It is available in V-rated sizes ranging from 205/65R15 to 245/45R18, H-rated sizes ranging from 185/65R14 to 235/55R19XL and T-rated sizes from 185/70R14 to 225/50R18.

Delta Esteem Plus HR, TR and VR

The Delta Esteem Plus line from Del-Nat Tire Corp. features a solid center rib that provides a confident on-center feel when traveling today’s highways. Offset grooves and tread blocks in the shoulder provide a quiet, comfortable ride quality.

Features of the Delta Esteem Plus include geometric siping of the tread for good water dispersion. This enhances wet-stopping while also offering confident performance in all-weather driving conditions. A roadside tire assistance program is available.

The Delta Esteem Plus TR is available in 22 T-speed-rated sizes ranging from 175/70R13 to 225/60R17. The Delta Esteem Plus HR is available in eight H-speed-rated sizes ranging from 195/65R15 to 225/55R16. The Delta Esteem Plus VR is available in five V-speed-rated sizes ranging from 205/60R16 to 225/50R17.

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Eldorado Legend Tour

TBC International says the Eldorado Legend Tour features silica compounding for lower rolling resistance, and better cold weather traction that can be achieved with TBC’s “variable progressive siping.”

The Eldorado Legend Tour has an asymmetric five-rib all-season tread design. It is manufactured with ultra-high performance and low rolling resistance technology that enhances wet traction and handling. In addition, its low-temperature flexibility improves winter traction.

Designed with variable progressive siping, the tire maintains wet/winter traction as the tire wears. Full-depth 3D interlocking sipes provide stability when new and flexibility when worn for improved traction.

It is currently available in 49 sizes, 15 to 19 inch, in 75, 70, 65, 60, 55 and 50 series; a 45 series is coming soon. It is available in T-, H- and V-speed ratings. The Eldorado Legend Tour will have 55 sizes by the end of 2011.

The Azenis PT722 A/S

Falken Tire Corp. says the Azenis PT722 A/S is the company’s first premium ultra-high performance touring tire. It features a deep tread depth and long lateral tread grooves, traits that help maximize traction on wet surfaces. An asymmetric tread pattern provides a comfortable ride.

The tire’s lineup is made up of OE replacement sizes for vehicles such as large luxury sedans like the BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz CL. It is backed by either a 60,000-mile limited tread wear warranty (for 600 UTQG sizes), or 40,000-mile warranty (440 UTQG sizes). The Azenis PT722 is available in 44 sizes ranging from 16 inches through 20 inches.

General Tire Altimax Powerline

General Tire’s Altimax Powerline series from Continental Tire the Americas LLC offers two touring lines. The Altimax HP balances technology and design to produce an all-season tire for today’s high performance sport coupes and sedans. The Altimax RT is a stylish touring tire that supplies a smooth, comfortable ride without compromising tread wear, the company notes.

Highlights include Continental’s “Quad-Tech” features such as: the Visual Alignment Indicator (VAI), which help consumers visually identify alignment irregularities; Acoustic Modulation Sound Technology (AMST), a sound wave suppression technology that reduces road tire noise; and Twin Cushion Silica Tread Compound, comprised of high- and low-density treads, to deliver ride comfort.

Both tires are currently available in a wide range of popular 13- through 18-inch sizes. The Altimax HP/RT lines will include over 69 sizes encompassing T-, H- and V-speed ratings, and aspect ratios from 70 to 40 series.

Assurance ComforTred Touring

The all-new Assurance ComforTred Touring from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. features “dual comfort zones” in the tread and sidewall to help optimize comfort and handling. A special “comfort layer” in the tread helps provide, on average, 20% more cushion than standard passenger tires for a smooth, comfortable ride, says Goodyear.

An asymmetric tread helps provide refined handling and confident wet traction. ComfortEdge sidewalls help provide a versatile balance of comfort and handling. Wide circumferential grooves help evacuate water away from the tread for enhanced traction on wet roads.

With a wide selection of T-, H- and the increasingly popular V-speed rated sizes, dealers will be in a position to offer this next-generation, premium tire to a wide selection of luxury and mid-scale sedan drivers, the company says.

Stay tuned! Part two of this article will cover tires from GITI Tire (USA) Ltd. to Yokohama Tire Corp.

 

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