‘Winning Hearts and Minds’
Four years after launching the Meteo Esc, Marangoni Tyre has updated its winter tyre range by releasing the Meteo HP passenger car tyre. As the name suggests, the Italian company’s latest product is designed as a high performance winter offering. The new tyre will be available in time for next season (2005/2006) in 15 popular sizes with indices mainly between T and H, but with three going all the way up to V. The Meteo HP will be available in 15 to 18 inch diameters and in 65 to 40 series ratios. Tyres & Accessories spoke to Marangoni Tyre’s global sales and marketing director, Derek Carruthers, and asked how the company planned to market its new winter tyre in the UK.
Marangoni Tyre’s sales and marketing director says he is “realistically optimistic and enthusiastic” about the company’s objectives in the UK. It wants its stake in the UK market to grow, but at the same time, the company is realistic about the fact that it is not the largest producer in terms of volume. Marangoni Tyre produces around 3 million units annually. Of these, 20 per cent are winter tyres. Like other manufacturers in the small but growing UK winter tyre market, Marangoni realises that right now it is more about maintaining a presence than selling huge volumes of tyres. The reason being, that as and when the market does develop, the company will be in midst of it all and will be able to ‘grow with the flow.’ As far as Marangoni is concerned, seeing the UK winter tyre market double from its current level of around three per cent to six per cent would be a major achievement – let alone matching the Dutch 10 per cent or the German level of around half the replacement market.
As far as Derek Carruthers is concerned there are many good reasons to promote the sale of winter tyres. Unlike some new technologies like run-flats, which you might only use once in three years, using winters tyres means drivers are safer today, Mr Carruthers explains. Furthermore, from his point of view, winter tyres should really be called cold weather tyres because they not only provide demonstrably better performance in the depths of winter, but for the six months of the year where the temperature is below seven degrees Celsius. “The safety benefits are real and can have a positive effect now,” says Mr Carruthers.
The problem is “there is a certain amount of apathy amongst UK drivers – on the continent they are much more aware,” Mr Carruthers explains. Cold weather tyres aside, this apathy can be seen throughout British tyre changing habits. “Year after year safety campaigns show that a large proportion of motorists are driving with unsafe tyres” The opposite is true in some mainland European countries. In Germany, Europe’s largest winter tyre market, a lot of drivers change their tyres when the tread depth reaches between three and four millimetres. Whereas in the UK a substantial number of motorists just try to see how low they can get away with the same set.
In order to raise general awareness and ultimately to see the growth in the winter tyre market, Mr Carruthers would like to see the government lend support to a campaign, with legislation or advice. fundamentally, it is all about “winning the hearts and minds of people.” Furthermore the Marangoni representative says his company would be happy to support any pro-winter tyre initiatives in the UK. Although, at the same time, the company appreciates the need for a brand neutral approach and is wary of any campaign being perceived as a “cynical attempt to sell more tyres.”
British weather can be unpredictable to say the least, but on this occasion at the end of February, the elements brought with them a pleasing coincidence. As the sales and marketing director spoke to T&A in the mountains of Italy’s North Tyrole region, he remarked that although snow is less than common in the UK there is still a need for winter tyres. His comments, and the company’s launch could not have been timed better. While the company launched its latest winter offering, the UK was experiencing a particularly thorough covering of snow. Snow – or no snow, the safety benefits of winter tyres are real, Mr Carruthers reiterated.
That may be true, but on British roads where the national speed limit is 70 miles per hour, will consumers really demand high-speed performance from cold weather tyres? I put it to Derek Carruthers that UK consumers would pay more attention to whether or not the tyre performed in terms of comfort and noise performance. “Noise? I’ll let you decide for yourself,” Mr Carruthers responded.
In addition to getting a taste of the tyres snow and ice performance, journalists were given the opportunities to try the tyres in a range of vehicles – everything from a 2.5 litre Jaguar X-Type and an Alfa Romeo 147 GTA. Tyre noise was barely audible in the Jaguar. And in the Alfa, where the soundproofing is less of a priority, not a lot could be heard either. But does the tyre do what Marangoni says it will do? “Yes,” says Mr Carruthers emphatically – “if I had a dealership I’d sell them for sure.”
Minimising the winter tyre compromise
According to Marangoni the design brief for the Meteo HP was: to create “a tyre put on in October and taken off in April, at ease on both the motorway and on winding, snow-covered roads.” The company reports that performance, technical and environmental concerns were its main priorities and that although producing a new product is always a question of compromise, the new design improves performance across the board.
The Meteo HP’s tread pattern plays a particularly significant role in its performance. The tyre’s asymmetrical design features four deep longitudinal grooves improving water expulsion. Marangoni even goes as far as saying that it “effectively prevents aquaplaning.” In addition, the tread also features dense variable siping at variable angles for maximum grip on ice and snow. According to the company, the tread design has also helped it to achieve low rolling resistance and low-noise design goals.
Technologically speaking, Marangoni describes the development of SPE or Solid Particle Encapsulation as one of the product’s most important innovations. According to the company, SPE technology allows the Meteo HP to “drastically improve performance on snow and ice.” Basically the R&D department has devised a method of encapsulating crystals measuring just a few microns in size into the compound. These are said to exert a gripping action on ice and snow, increasing adherence across the tread. Furthermore, the company claims that when these crystals fall out they leave microscopic hollows and solid spots in the tread that are meant to be particularly effective on snow.
The tyre is also designed for use on dry, cold and wet surfaces. And once more is based on an optimised silica compound in order to provide better handling “on all road surfaces and in a wide range of ambient temperatures.” Marangoni continues to put a strong emphasis on protecting the environment and its latest offering continues that strategy by offering improved rolling resistance. As well as the improved fuel consumption achieved by lowering rolling resistance, Marangoni highlights the absence of aromatic oils as a further demonstration of the company’s ecological conscience.
Like all Marangoni high performance tyres, the Meteo HP also uses the PST (Performance Safety Technology) structure, which allows high power to be transferred to the road during acceleration. The company claims this ensures maximum uniformity in the distribution of forces and optimises the tyre’s footprint. In particular, the upwards movement of the flexion zone “guarantees” precise driving.
Together with the characteristics of the compound and the tread, the PST structure allows the Meteo HP to reach speed rating V (up to 240 km/h), very high for a winter tyre.
No less important is the use of FOM-IC, the other advanced technology that Marangoni applies to all its HP and UHP tyres. Optimising the interaction between polymer and filler (silica and carbon black) inside the compound, FOM-IC allows a significant increase in performance in terms of grip and control in a flexible manner, that is, optimised according to the specific use. In the Meteo HP, FOM-IC is decisive for the improvement of the behaviour of the compound at low temperatures, in particular in the wet.
Another fundamental characteristic of the PST platform is its use of a dual compound cap/base structure. In the same way the Meteo HP is thus characterised by the Cap/Base structure, in which the tread is made up of two layers of compound: a softer inner layer (Base), in contact with the cavity; an outer layer (Cap), silica-based and employing the SPE and FOM-IC technology, which is more rigid and offers higher performance levels.
In addition to launching the Meteo HP, the company also released updated versions of existing products, the Meteo Esc E+ and the studdable Meteo Grip E+. Both products end with an E+ motif signifying their environmentally friendly design characteristics. Like all Marangoni tyres, the new winter products come with a lifetime warranty that covers all damage caused by normal road use.