Nokian faced serious questions about the way it has worked with European tyre tests, published first in Finnish newspaper, Kauppalehti
Along with Nokian’s admission and apology for “mistakes” in its practices concerning tyre tests, the Finnish tyre manufacturer stated that “several operators in the field… have been suspected or evidence has been presented against them of differences between tyres in magazine tests and tyres that are for sale in stores.” After the Nokian statement’s implication of other tyre manufacturers in malpractice regarding independent tyre testing, Michelin immediately responded by stating categorically that it has “never designed or manufactured tyres specifically for tests conducted by the media, automobile associations or any other organisations.” Tyres & Accessories approached 11 more of the world’s leading manufacturers, many of whose products regularly appear in magazine tests, for their response to the question: Have you ever designed or manufactured tyres specifically for tests conducted by the media, automobile associations or any other organisations? Listed below are their responses.
Bridgestone: “We do not produce – and have never produced – specific tyres for comparative tyre tests in magazines or by independent third party testing organisations.”
Continental: “Continental tyres that are tested in tyre tests are always identical to those available on the market. To the best of our knowledge, the magazines that run the tests aim to publish ratings for products that are available on the market at the time publication is planned.
“The test results are arrived at with the aid of instrumentation, which means they are objective. In the interests of quality control, checks on standard production tyres are subsequently run, and if discrepancies are discovered the product in question is excluded from the published report. This has been standard practice in the marketplace for years and underlines the testers’ efforts to evaluate only the performance characteristics of products that are actually on the market, in the best interests of drivers.”
Giti: “Giti Tire can categorically state that it has never manufactured tyres for third-party test purposes. As an ethical business it is crucial that each tyre performs in line with the details outlined on the label – as well as in all the other tests which are critical to the research, design and manufacture of a tyre – so every customer knows exactly what to expect with our products. Giti Tire shall continue to be very supportive of magazine tests which provide true, fair and comprehensive performance information to the market through proper and certified testing methodology. The company will continue to look closely at all tyre review tests and take the necessary investigations and actions where necessary to confirm the performance characteristics of its products.”
Goodyear Dunlop: “The tyres we submit to testing organisations are tyres that are or will be on the market at the time of the publication of the test. All tyres we submit meet the same specifications as tyres that are made available for consumers at dealer outlets.”
Maxxis: Derek McMartin, managing director, Maxxis International stated: “As far as Maxxis is concerned, performance tests should be performed on tyres purchased through retailers with no prior notice. That is the only way to ensure you are testing a representative product, and it should therefore be impossible to manufacture tyres to manipulate test results. Similarly, testers should not design tests to highlight the positive attributes of one tyre over another in a subjective way. How or why noise levels, for example, can sometimes demote a tyre to below comparative tyres with lower safety and performance scores is beyond me.
“Maxxis develops tyres to deliver high levels of safety, performance and comfort to road users. Our primary focus is not to make tyres that will perform well in often misleading media tests. What I can say is that Maxxis has never supplied tyres direct from factory to test house. We can guarantee we have never made special ‘test tyres’, but would add that last week’s revelations do potentially explain some of the anomalies in tests we have identified and questioned in the past.”
Yokohama: “Yokohama has never supplied special tyres to a magazine test. Yokohama focuses continuous effort on innovation. At no time do we try to influence or manipulate any test results, or attempt to change the results of any tyre test we are in. We focus solely on our own development in an honest manner, and do not approve of any attempt to gloss over any results that are not a true reflection of our tyre performance.”
Update (08:09, 2 March 2016): Hankook: “As a business principle (reflecting Hankook Tire’s corporate rules & regulations and our ethical code, as well as according to our general business compliance) we are not producing nor supplying special sample tyres just for third party tests. If tyres are submitted to testing parties/magazines on their request, they already are on the market, or in cases of new products will be market available at the time of the results being published.
“Furthermore please let me add the following with regard to our independently verified product quality.
“Secretly market purchased Hankook tyres have been and are regularly tested from independent sources on all continents with good results for our brand. Just recently some of our products like our Kinergy Eco General Performance tyre for European markets has received the overall best rating “good” from German Automobile Club ADAC for the fourth consecutive time. Our tyre products have also been independently verified by Consumer Report in the USA with high rankings, e.g. first place for our Dynapro AT-M SUV All Terrain tyre as published yesterday. Both sources are secretly purchasing the tested products in their markets on their own budgets and independently testing them of course without any sort of external influence from our side. Reflecting the above, Hankook Tire always aims to convince consumers with the true and best possible performance of our market available products to achieve a real, transparent and sustainable brand image and high customer satisfaction.
“Hankook Tire is a proud producer of premium performing tyres with state-of-the-art regionalized R&D and production all over the world. We are an accepted supplier for the global automobile industry, among them all German premium vehicle makers both in the CAR/SUV as well as in the LTR/TBR segments. Through permanent improvements in the development and in our production as well, we have received a high reputation among the automotive industry as a reliable supplier for premium performing products of constant and high quality. Thus and to keeping that proud status, our company is frequently audited from the vehicle manufacturers and the product performance is regularly checked through permanent internal quality and performance cross checks of the car makers.”
Pirelli and Apollo both gave T&A a straight and brief official answer – “no” – in person at the Geneva Motor Show 2016. Cooper and Sumitomo Rubber Industries were also contacted for this article. T&A understands that more substantial statements from all of the above will follow the publication of this article.
(Update 13:12, 17 March 2016) As expected, Pirelli filled out the brief, but clear statement made by officials in Geneva with this statement: “Each year, Pirelli participates in numerous tests organized both by sector publications and entities such as national automobile clubs. The participation in such tests happens with tyres of normal production, the same in terms of quality and performance as those sold on the market. It is also worth noting that often the groups carrying out the tests acquire the tyres to be tested through the normal retail channels.”
What do these denials mean for Nokian?
As we have seen, other major tyre manufacturers are firmly stating that they have not been involved in the practices of “test manipulation” through the submission of specially produced tyres, following Michelin’s lead. So what does this mean for Nokian?
Clearly the Finnish manufacturer wanted to control the narrative by “[bringing] up tyre testing in car media ourselves”. It wanted its efforts to “increase the transparency and ethicality of our operations on all levels” to move the story on from the initial revelations published in the original 24 February article in Finnish newspaper, Kauppalehti. Yet Michelin’s swift oppositional response to Nokian’s implicit finger-pointing has forced others to declare a position too; denial has become necessary in order to escape the inference that they are among the “several operators” of whom Nokian spoke.
With other industry players closing ranks to deny any involvement in test rigging, things do not look as positive for Nokian. After its initial attempt to shift the story away from past “mistakes” towards its more ethically inclined present and future of increased “openness and transparency in all activities,” it remains the only manufacturer to admit to these practices, and the only one to implicate other players.