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Performance touring: New tires spark a new way of marketing

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Performance touring: New tires spark a new way of marketing

Touring tires combine degrees of a performance tire's low-profile look and handling with a premium tire's softer ride. They also have all-season capabilities. That hasn't changed.

Traditionally, they were "T" and "S" rated. They often were fitted on luxury or touring sedans by vehicle manufacturers. That has evolved.

A recent rash of touring tire introductions has, in a broad sense, redefined the category. At the very least it has created a sub-segment.

Because of the increased emphasis on high speed ratings and performance characteristics without a corresponding decrease in ride comfort, these are the ultimate in touring tires. They are what we call performance touring tires.

The Michelin Primacy MXV4, Toyo Versado LX and Falken Ziex ZE-912 represent the new breed, even though they are marketed differently.

The Primacy is a "performance" touring tire. The Versado is a "luxury" touring tire. And the Ziex ZE-912 is a "premium performance" touring tire. They all have H- and V-rated sizes; Versado (two W-rated) and Ziex also come in Z-rated sizes.

Falken Tire Corp. plans to add seven T-rated sizes to the Ziex mix next year. The new Cooper CS4 Touring (see "Cooper launches CS4 Touring tire," MTD, May 2007) also is available in T- through V-rated sizes.

The performance touring market accounted for close to 23 million units in 2006. According to Nick Nalepa, Michelin brand category manager, touring tires, for Michelin North America Inc., the segment is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8%.

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Primacy MXV4: the next generation -- There is a lot of energy in Michelin's touring de force

Michelin North America Inc.'s new Primacy MXV4 eventually will replace the Energy MXV4 Plus/S8. The company claims that the Primacy BXV4 provides a significant improvement in wear performance with no loss of handling, traction or comfort compared to the Energy MXV4.

Designed for upscale luxury and performance vehicles, the Primacy MXV4 features the following technologies:

* Advanced MaxTouch Construction. The unique profile and tire design provides long-lasting, even tread wear "without sacrificing what makes a performance touring tire a performance touring tire," says Nick Nalepa, Michelin brand category manager for touring tires.

* Comfort Control. The computer-optimized tread design and precision manufacturing reduce vibrations and road noise compared to the Energy MXV4.

* "Active sipes." The sipes, part of a unique tread block design, alternately lock together and open as needed to provide biting edges to grip the road in rain and snow.

Nalepa says performance touring tires, unlike their traditional base touring counterparts, are Z-, V- and H-rated. However, he divides the category into two segments.

1. Touring ride. The larger of the two, performance touring ride focuses on noise dampening and other NVH elements. Toyota Avalon and Honda Accord fit this segment.

2. Touring handling. Touring handling tires have sufficient ride attributes, but have lower profiles and are a little more handling-oriented, he says. "They have tangible sidewall benefits and look." Poster vehicles for touring handling tires are the Acura RL and BMW 7 Series.

The Primacy MXV4 targets the touring ride segment.

Product Category Manager Dean Weekes says the tire will be introduced into the replacement market. Over time, however, Michelin hopes it will replace the original equipment fitments of the Energy MXV4.

Because of its numerous OE fitments, the Energy MXV4 won't be leaving the marketplace anytime soon, he adds.

The Primacy MXV4 tire is available in 22 H-rated sizes from 185/65R15 to 225/60R18, and 10 V-rated sizes from 195/60R15 to 245/45R18. All are backed by a 60,000-mile limited tread wear warranty.

Michelin is targeting the performance touring tire against the Bridgestone Turanza (with Serenity technology), Goodyear Eagle LS and Pirelli P6 Four Seasons, according to Nalepa. It will be manufactured in the United States, Canada and Europe.

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Family planning: Toyo gives birth to the Versado LX

Three years in the making, the Toyo Versado LX is the first in a family of touring tires jointly designed by Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. engineers and their counterparts at the home office in Japan.

Toyo used two of its own tires, the T-rated 800 Ultra and Proxes TPT, as an "index" to create the Versado LX, says Kevin Arima, staff engineer and product manager of UHP tires. Competitive tires such as the Bridgestone Turanza LS (since replaced by the Turanza Serenity) and Michelin Energy MXV4 (the predecessor to the Michelin Primacy MXV4), among others, also were used as benchmarks.

The company classifies the Versado as a "luxury" or "premium" touring tire and is targeting it at sedans like the BMW 7 Series. According to Arima, the Proxes TPT is "more of a performance touring tire," designed "for those who want a little more dry-oriented performance."

However, the Versado LX is available in two W-rated, 14 V-rated (including two XL sizes, 205/50R17 and 215/50R17) and 16 H-rated sizes in addition to 11 T-rated sizes. In that respect, its size complement is similar to the Falken Ziex ZE-912.

(Toyo marketed its 600-HT as a "high performance touring" tire in the early 1990s; it featured H-rated sizes.)

Features and benefits

The Versado LX features the company's proprietary Silent Wall technology, which combines performance with all-season capabilities, and is engineered to delivery a smooth, comfortable and quiet ride. The Silent Wall design incorporates a series of densely packed serrations along the walls of four circumferential grooves, which reduces noise, or "pipe resonance," created when the tire is in use.

Variable-pitch tread blocks and a computer-optimized tread pattern reduce noise even further, as do the multi-wave sipes that help reduce irregular wear. The sipes also help decrease tread block movement under acceleration, cornering and braking conditions. Arima says the multi-wave sipes give the Versado LX superior wet traction versus the Toyo Spectrum.

Other design features include the following:

* a non-directional, asymmetric tread with large rigid tread blocks on the outer shoulder.

* increased sipe density on the inner blocks. The resulting "edge effect" optimizes traction on both dry and wet roads.

* special casing construction properties that absorb impact energy.

Toyo calls the Versado a "direct original equipment replacement tire." It will fit cars such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Infiniti Q45, Lexus LS 430, Lincoln Town Car, and Cadillac DTS and STS.

It is being offered initially in 70- through 45-series sizes ranging from 205/70R15 through 245/45R18. Arima says the UHP sizes used to be found only on high performance vehicles. Now they are OE fitments on comfort-oriented, premium sedans like the Lexus LS 430 and Nissan Maxima.

"Previously, we only had these sizes on the Proxes 4 (Toyo's UHP all-season tire)."

Marketing campaign

"Versado" is Spanish for "well-versed" or "knowledgeable." It is being backed by an integrated marketing campaign, according to Julie Sediq, director of marketing communications.

"This marketing campaign captures the essence of the upscale, luxury lifestyle," says Steve Weinger, senior vice president of sales and marketing. "The heavy investment in national television, in addition to print (advertising), shows Toyo's commitment to this entirely new product line."

The ads will feature a bronze and silver metallic color scheme - rich colors that Steve Hutchison, senior director of marketing, says "underscore the positioning of the Versado."

Toyo will distribute the product exclusively through the independent tire dealer channel. As to adding other patterns to the Versado line, Arima says "We're studying the market."

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From tuner to touring: New tire symbolizes Falken's 'maturation'

Falken has long been known as a tuner brand. Falken Tire Corp. is now targeting what it calls "the premium performance touring" segment with a new tire, the Ziex ZE 912.

While tuner tires remain a big part of Falken's business, the ZE 912 represents the next stage in the company's evolution, says Falken Tire President Richard Smallwood.

"Falken is maturing and we now have the opportunity to pursue more categories." That includes mid- to premium-level sedans with large-diameter, low aspect ratio original equipment tire and wheel combinations.

"Vehicles that came with 15- and 16-inch tires five years ago are coming with 18-inch tires and wheels," says Darren Thomas, Falken's vice president of sales and marketing. "And we're seeing more vehicles coming with 40-, 45-, 50- and 55-series tires. But their drivers aren't necessarily sports car customers.

"Most of the replacement market is becoming more touring-oriented." The majority of the ZE 912's 65 sizes, which are designed to cover 90% of the ultra-high performance market, will be available this month.

The tire contains Falken's Hybrid-Asymmetric Pattern Design, which "eliminates the maintenance complexities associated with directional tires... the ZE 912 offers tire rotation options without the need to dismount tire and wheel assemblies."

It also comes with Rotation Wear Indicators, a square shoulder profile for extra stability and other features.

Right direction

Falken showed off the tire's on-road capabilities during a ride-and-drive event near Pattaya, Thailand, in late April. Several dealers who attended the event made favorable comments about the product, as well as Falken's thrust into the premium touring tire segment.

"I think they're trying to go where the market is headed," says Chris Roberg, owner of Pacific Tire Distributors, a large wholesaler based in Portland, Ore. "They started as a niche marketer and now they're trying to broaden their image. They're getting to that next level."

Pacific Tire has about 450 active customers. The ZE 912's predecessor, the five-year-old Ziex ZE512, was one of the wholesaler's top sellers. "You always need something new to talk about," says Roberg. (According to Falken, the ZE512 will be taken out of the independent tire dealer channel and given to Discount Tire Co. as an exclusive.)

"Falken has great products," says Mike Patrick, president of Atlanta, Ga.-based Tri-State Tire, another wholesaler. "They just need more. What they're doing with the ZE 912 is a step in the right direction."

Patrick adds that his company sells a lot of touring tires in other brands, including Hercules, Toyo, Yokohama and Maxxis.

John Andonian, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Evans Tire & Service Center Inc., likes the ZE 912's design. "If you look at the tread patterns of the ZE512 and the ZE 912, the ZE 912 looks like it has a more modern tread design. The customer likes to see what the tread looks like."

Carey Hull, retail marketing manager for Vernon, British Columbia-based Kal Tire, agrees. "Today's consumers are smarter; they go to the Internet more. They care about tread patterns and what a tire looks like."

Andonian believes Falken is doing the right thing by aggressively pursuing the touring segment. "Other tire companies are going in that direction. If you don't follow, you're going to be left out."

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