Timing is everything in the automotive business. So feel some sympathy for Michelin's UK team which has just launched a campaign to try to persuade British motorist to adopt the idea of switching to cold weather tyres - during one of the warmest autumn spells on record in the British Isles.

Michelin sold just 40,000 cold weather tyres in the UK last year. But the company takes heart from the fact that in the Netherlands, which has similar weather to the UK, sales of cold weather tyres have grown from 55,000 in 1996 to 412,000 last winter.

"Having cold weather tyres has become something of a status symbol in Holland," said Michelin UK product marketing manager Steve Dolby.

Cold weather tyres come into their own at temperatures below 7degrees C. "They stay more supple at lower temperatures which gives a big improvement in performance," said Dolby.

Below 7 C, a winter tyre will improve braking performance by 15% while also improving grip.

In some Western European countries, especially the Nordic area and part of the Alps, fitting winter tyres is compulsory.

Over the last 10 years, sales of cold weather tyres have grown by 125% in Europe and a further 25% growth is anticipated over the next five years, said Dolby.

"In the UK this year we will have cold weather tyres in stock for the first time, rather than having to order them in which takes two to three weeks. This is really a test year for us," said Dolby.

One of the major issues is the cost of storing summer tyres during winter, and winter tyres during summer. But wear rates between summer and winter tyres are identical, so each mile travelled on the winter tyres is a mile saved on the summer tyres.

"Over the lifetime of the car it is probable that four sets of tyres will be used and this can simply be two sets of summer and two sets of cold weather tyres," said Dolby.

Interchange News Agency