INTERVIEW: It's a 'good year' for run-flat tyres
As one of the world's largest tyre producers, Goodyear's brands include Goodyear, Dunlop, Kelly, Fulda, Debica, Sava and various house brands. Matthew Beecham talked with James Bailey, corporate communications manager, Goodyear, about the company's tyre branding strategy, drivers of innovation and run-flat business.
just-auto: Although brands have always played a part in tyre marketing, they have assumed more importance in the last decade or so with the emergence of global players and the acquisition of a portfolio of existing brands as a result of the takeover of other firms. At a basic level, tyre makers are promoting three main brands on the 'good, better, best' principle. What is Goodyear's tyre branding strategy?
James Bailey: Having a defined hierarchy of brands is not unusual for tyre manufacturers. However, Goodyear Dunlop is unique in that we have two premium brands. This gives us the ability to target different types of consumer with different brand strategies. With one brand you have to 'be all things to all people', but we build our safety (particularly wet performance) around Goodyear product development and communication, with Dunlop being absolutely focused on the ultimate handling experience - a message that means a lot to petrolheads, but is perhaps less relevant to the average family motorist.
We also have our Fulda brand which, as a quality German product, offers a smart choice for canny shoppers but is only available in the aftermarket. Our Sava and Debica brands are well-established, quality mid-priced brands that have a great reputation for reliable performance.
just-auto: In what ways has the increasing segmentation of the car market affected your marketing strategy?
James Bailey: We have to stock more product lines! Take the UK fleet market, for example. Ten years ago, this market was dominated by cars such as the Vectra, Mondeo and Passat, with perhaps just four or five tyre sizes covering the majority of fitments. Now, this market can cover everything from Mini to SUV - which means a diverse portfolio, and a strong OE presence, is essential. Goodyear and Dunlop are well placed with our two brands to cover this spread of models.
just-auto: Although the increasing sophistication of vehicle design has led to specific tyres being designed for specific vehicles, to what extent is this true of the replacement market?
James Bailey: Certain manufacturers, most notably Mercedes and BMW have specific tyres designed for their cars. This is reflected in the replacement market, often until cars reach their third or fourth owner. It means a wider choice of product, but in the replacement market this is an opportunity for us to ensure the right tyre is available in the right dealer when the customer needs it. An optimised supply chain is a true competitive advantage for us in this environment.
just-auto: To what extent does your loyalty replacement rate vary from one brand to another?
James Bailey: We have very strong brand loyalty, but in the UK market this is affected by the fleet market. If a car has Goodyear OE and the fleet contract is with our own HiQ Fleet Partners, or with strategic partners such as Kwik Fit, then there is a high chance of retaining that car. However, if a rival tyre company has the fleet contract, then the OE business is unlikely to turn into a replacement sale.
just-auto: Overall, we are seeing the mature tyre industry growing at about 3% a year, but I guess there are some tyre segments growing faster than others. Which tyre segments are the fastest growing? Is it the performance markets of W, Y, Z and 4x4?
James Bailey: Yes, the main growth is in high performance fitments. A 17 or 18 inch tyre was supercar territory in the early 90s - now it is the main tyre for the Mondeo market. Our fastest growing area is RunOnFlat tyres. With standard fitments across the BMW and Mini ranges, and option choices for many Ford, GM, and Mercedes models, the growth has been rapid.
Goodyear sold 2.5m RunOnFlat tyres last year, and the growing demand is backed up by consumer research into the benefits of 'get you home' tyres. Research from leading international automotive marketing information firm J.D. Power, revealed that 84% of motorists would be more interested in fitting their cars with RunOnFlat type tyres than with any other available features - such as ESP (Electronic Stability Programme), Satellite Navigation Systems or Rear Parking Assist - in providing reassurance and safety for them and their families.
just-auto: Technically speaking, wet surface performance has always been an important characteristic of tyres and a major element in the performance testing. What are your latest advances in this area?
James Bailey: Goodyear has been declared winners in the only three independent tyre tests in the UK press during 2007. The Auto Express, Autocar and Evo tests all highlighted the surprisingly big differences in new tyre performance, and the Goodyear wins were as a result of outstanding wet performance.
Evo found that on the wet handling track, the new Goodyear Eagle F1 was able to lap 7.5 seconds faster than the ninth placed tyre. That means that in less than ten laps of the circuit, an identical Golf GTi fitted with the worst performing tyre would be a full lap behind the Goodyear-shod car in the wet!
It was a similar story in an emergency stop situation as well. Evo found that the Goodyear could brake from 55mph an incredible 12.5 metres shorter than the worst performing tyre. This is the equivalent of two and a half car lengths.
The performance of the Goodyear is a result of its unique design. In itself, an asymmetric tread profile is nothing new, but the Eagle F1 Asymmetric also premieres an asymmetrical construction - an aramid layer in the inner sidewall of the tyre that optimizes the cornering performance.
just-auto: Reducing the weight of tyres has been on the agenda for decades, fueled by environmental pressures. Are there any notable weight-saving developments introduced by Goodyear?
James Bailey: We have been able to reduce the weight of tyres - particularly RunOnFlat tyres with new constructions and materials.
just-auto: Reducing noise is another area of research as consumers want quieter cars and pressure builds up to cut noise pollution. Is it fair to say that compromises must be made when reducing tyre noise generation, i.e. reduced tyre noise could result in poorer performance of other tyre properties, in particular wet grip and rolling resistance?
James Bailey: Not necessarily. Our latest EagleF1 Asymmetric tyre, described above, comes in well under the latest EC regulations for noise. With 70.2 decibels at 80km/h, the noise emission of the new Eagle F1 is significantly lower than that of its competitors - so the trade off question is clearly not an issue for Goodyear.
just-auto: I guess rolling resistance is another focus of research since gains in this area can make a contribution (albeit limited) to fuel economy. Is this an area Goodyear is working on? To what extent can further advancements be made?
James Bailey: A 6% cut in rolling resistance equates to a 1 percent cut in fuel consumption. Goodyear is working on the development of an ultra low rolling resistance RunOnFlat tyre with environmentally friendly materials. On this project Goodyear is working in close cooperation with two research partners: The Italian research company Novamont and our OE partners, BMW. One of the project's main tasks is to develop a new 'bio' filler as an alternative to traditional fillers used in tyres. This new filler, which will be made out of renewable resources like corn starch, may have a major environmental impact and lead to a reduction of CO2 emissions during its production process.
The second task of the project consists of an in-depth analysis of a tyre's structure, aimed at minimizing energy loss while the vehicle is in motion.
Together with Goodyear, Novamont is focusing on the development of a new 'bio' filler and assessing its dispersion capabilities in tyre formulations. In the scientific world Novamont is recognized as a pioneer in the development of products deriving from renewable raw materials of agricultural origin like starch.
Goodyear, together with its development partner BMW, will develop the tyre formulations and test the prototype tyres and the optimized tyre structure. BMW's expertise in the tyre-vehicle interaction and the related testing and safety requirements is an important asset for the project's success.
just-auto: Perhaps the most dramatic innovation in tyre technology over the past decade or so has been the development of the run-flat tyre. But the run-flat tyre industry is still in its infancy, suggesting that there is still a lot more development work to be done. Would you agree that the characteristics of self-supporting run-flats are that they have a harsher ride, tend to be noisier, and as yet the automakers haven't been able to adopt the suspension sufficiently to hide those characteristics?
James Bailey: According to BMW Car Magazine (August 2005) - Goodyear has cracked the ride comfort issue with the latest RunOnFlat tyre -- developing a "run-flat tyre that doesn't specialise in jiggling about your internal organs as a pay-off for the extra security that run-flat technology brings".
BMW Car praised Goodyear's newest technology for overcoming many of the shortcomings of other run-flat tyres. According to the article, "there is no doubt that the RunOnFlats are a significant leap forward over previous run-flats… This car rode noticeably smoother than a previous Three (series) we have tested on the older Goodyear EMT run-flat tyres. Ruts and bumps were simply soaked up, the Three never losing its taut sports saloon composure or feeling anything other than planted."
Goodyear sold more than 2.5m RunOnFlats in 2007 and the feedback of customers is extremely positive. Drivers appreciate the safety and convenience benefits Goodyear's RunOnflat technology provides. Most of our customers don't feel any difference between standard tyres and their RunOnFlat tyres. However, we know that some of our customers would appreciate "softer" tyres for a higher level of comfort. Goodyear is addressing this demand with its new generation of RunOnFlat
The next generation of Goodyear RunOnFlats will have reduced chassis loading force and stiffness, improved comfort and reduced rolling resistance. Recent Goodyear technology breakthroughs will take the current RunOnFlat technology to a new level.
just-auto: What does the future of run-flat tyres depend on?
James Bailey: Automotive trends are leaning toward an integration of RunOnFlat tyres. Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems are already mandatory in the U.S. and might become mandatory in Europe as well. Hydrogen fuel cells and electric vehicles will require a strong integration of RunOnFlat tyres due to the packaging issues of these cars - with no space for a spare.
just-auto: I guess the tyres industry would like to see almost maintenance-free tyres yet it seems that we are a long way from that. While run-flats offer a short-term solution, I guess the ultimate is a penetration-proof tyre. Could that really happen? What future technology would you like to see developed?
James Bailey: Goodyear already sell a truck tyre called the DuraSeal. It is OE fitment on the Renault Kerax off road truck. This has a gel-like material in the belt area that plugs punctures when exposed to air. The technology exists - but it does have a premium. This is meeting the needs of truck operators who are doing a lot of abrasive, off road work, but for car markets we see RunOnFlat as the best solution.
just-auto: Are there any other notable trends in the use of materials in tyre manufacture?
James Bailey: Dunlop has just launched a new tyre aimed at the high performance and tuning market. The Dunlop Sport Maxx TT uses Kevlar in the apex of the tyre sidewall. Adding Kevlar to the apex compound creates a stiffer sidewall, which is therefore more resistant to torsion and compression, and greatly improves the dynamic behaviour, specifically at higher temperatures. These features lead to increased stability during cornering, as well as enhanced road feedback and more precision driving. The apex is part of the tyre's sidewall and located radially outward of the tyre's bead.
just-auto: For some time, we have seen how tuning has become a popular sideline to tyre manufacturers. But what is the real attraction for Goodyear?
James Bailey: Dunlop in particular has strong relationships with the major tuners, particularly in the burgeoning Japanese and German markets. These tuners offer something that customers desire - and tyres play an important role in achieving ultimate vehicle performance. Dunlop have the fastest ever 'road legal' production tyre lap of the Nurburgring. This was a direct result of our tuning relationships - and specific tuning tyres.
just-auto: Is Goodyear involved in technology partnering arrangements with developers of tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS)?
James Bailey: We are advancing technology in tyre pressure monitoring systems, tyre/vehicle integration and breakthrough sensor development through our strategic alliances with Siemens VDO Automotive, TRW, and the advanced research organization, Sandia National Laboratory. These alliances help deliver new levels of innovation and the ability to bring technology to the market.
just-auto: Looking at the European tyre pressure monitoring system sector as a whole, what sort of growth rate are you seeing?
James Bailey: BMW Group cars all have TPMS as standard. This is the main driver of global growth. The legislation in the USA will lead to rapid incorporation of the technology across many more vehicles. We support TPMS roll-out across all markets - although with a note of caution. Visual inspections of tyres are still incredibly important as well!