Q&A with Falken Tyre

By Matthew Beecham | 26 March 2014

Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Over the past few years, Sumitomo Rubber Industries' subsidiary, Falken Tyre has been strengthening its presence overseas, in particular Europe. In this interview, Matthew Beecham spoke to Matt Smith, UK director of Falken Tyres about tyre modelling, winter tyres, EU tyre labelling, run-flats and the forthcoming requirement for tyre pressure monitoring systems in Europe.

What are the key trends with tyre development these days?

To design and make tyres that perform better than ever in all the required areas; easy to say!  Tyres are incredibly complicated and complex. This is often not understood.

Tyres need to satisfy multiple demands - fuel economy, wet grip, dry grip, safe braking, wear, noise, comfort and steering response. Advances in materials and manufacturing technology mean that tyres are better than ever; they consistently carry cars with ever-increasing performance and torque along deteriorating road conditions for many miles at all sorts of speeds and loads.

Competition among manufacturers remains healthy and is an important element in the advancing trends of tyre performance. Falken is a major manufacturer at the forefront of design and development - seeking to exceed the demands of the EU consumer.

Tyre labelling has also had a significant effect on tyre design. The labels prioritise performance in wet weather grip, rolling resistance and noise. Good scores will help to sway consumer choice so tyre makers are, for mainstream tyres, looking to tyre design to achieve good scores.

How have improvements in tyre modelling helped you over the past few years?

As a subsidiary of Sumitomo Rubber Industries, [we] enjoy access to the leading R&D facilities and simulation tools. Tyre modelling driven by super computers has accelerated the development of tyre compounds. We have seen some interesting developments for our new SN832 ECORUN tyre. By combining the SPring-8 materials research centre and its synchrotron radiation technology and the Japanese government's Earth Simulator super computer to simulate the real world conditions that a tyre experiences, Falken was able to identify how and where heat would be generated and how to minimise it. This is crucial as temperature build up results in higher rolling resistance which ultimately reduces fuel economy.

Do you think winter/summer tyre fitting should be standard across the EU?

Whilst it would be beneficial to sales volumes in the UK; with recent experience it is clear that the pressure for a legislative change just isn't there. We [in the trade] all know that winter or cold weather tyres are incredibly effective products - with undeniable advantages in the right application. Forcing a seasonal market condition across the EU is just not practical (or fair) for the Southern EU countries where the climate does not demand it. There are other options too, including an All Season tyre such as Falken's AS200.

To what extent does the EU tyre label give consumers the full story on a tyre's performance or should they be encouraged to look for test reports?

EU tyre labels are a positive step to assist with consumer choice and education - the drivers for this change are safety, efficiency and environmental considerations. However, the 'full story' is certainly not on the label. Manufacturers are testing tyres to benchmark standards in controlled conditions for new/ off the shelf tyres; what about when the conditions vary and the tyre is wearing and ageing?

Test results are an important subjective indicator of what the consumer should expect - but everyone drives differently and no car is truly the same as another when being used in daily life. A reputable test report is a valid way to compare multiple offerings and make an informed choice - often the natural choice of a premium quality mid-range tyre is the wisest economic choice for the consumer.

Has tyre labelling legislation given your company the chance to further innovate and differentiate itself from the competition?

The introduction of labelling coincided with the introduction of a fresh new range of European specific products - in 2012 Falken introduced five new patterns with specific modern designs for the European requirements. For example, all directional tyres were discontinued from the summer tyre range and new asymmetric patterns were introduced to improve rolling resistance performance and maintain wet grip by utilisation of new compounds.

Are TPMS and run-flat tyres accelerating the removal of the spare tyre?

TPMS is a forthcoming requirement for all EU registered cars. It is true that an effect of this is the justification to use a tyre repair kit or run-flat tyres. The obvious weight and space saving for the OEM is significant to assist towards reducing vehicle CO2/kg emissions. Whilst repair kits are proliferated - the run-flat is a steady advance, due to the price implications and vehicle 'reinforcement' which was needed to absorb the stiff ride comfort from these thick-walled tyres. Run flat is an option which has been adopted by premium vehicle marques - often fitted with premium tyres. Only tyre makers of repute can produce and rigorously prove such product. Falken has been producing runflat tyres for sometime in Japan and in 2014, we will launch a completely new Falken run-flat tyre - with patented production technology which we believe takes run-flat to the next level of performance and satisfaction.

How do you see the roll out of the run-flats amongst car segments in Europe?

We believe that as run-flat tyres become more comfortable and lighter then the OEM will see the benefit of fitting these to more and more vehicle platforms. We see the roll-out of adopting this technology as being introduced as an 'optional' cost fitment to mid-level European vehicles in the next two years.

People talk of the intelligent tyre as vehicles change. With newer forms of propulsion, in what ways will the tyre change and adapt to such technology?

Tyres have a functional job to perform - extending their performance at all the ends of the spectrum is the holy-grail. A tyre compound can be made to react to various temperature and moisture conditions but these chemical arts are still limited. A move away from natural raw -material resources towards synthetic is underway - in the interests of us all, environmentally. Parent company SRI is already producing so called Fossil Free tyres and is increasing the use of epoxidised natural rubber.

One aspect of tyre intelligence could be RFID which can identify and monitor a tyre operational life from an embedded chip - a kind of tracking system already used in some truck tyres.

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The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE tyre research service