Smaller Brands Lead the Way in Tyre Tests

Auto Express’ decision to make its recent tyre tests their “biggest ever” goes some way towards demonstrating the increasing interest surrounding these reports. And with so many brands on the market all claiming to be the best at something, who can blame consumers for wanting a second opinion?

However, Auto Express is not alone when it comes to testing. Other well-known magazines including Which?, Autocar and Evo also publish tyre test results. But in terms of coverage and frequency Auto Express’ tyre tests currently lead the way in the UK. And when you consider that that this particular publication is Britain’s biggest selling motoring weekly, it is clear that winning or being recommended by such a report can have very positive repercussions on the tyre business. Relatively unknown brands particularly have a lot to gain. By winning or being recommended in tests, these companies stand to gain a leg up in the estimation the country’s motoring millions, without investing in publicity or marketing campaigns. The theory is that product quality will speak for itself.

Auto Express’ 2005 tests scrutinised 20 of 185/60 R14 H tyres produced by a variety of manufacturers. The tests were mostly conducted at Continental’s Uvalde, Texas, proving ground. Rolling resistance tests were carried out at Continental’s Hanover, Germany, site. Tyres were assessed across 10 categories, five of which measured wet performance. According to the magazine’s consumer editor, Kim Adams, this decision was taken in order to stretch the tyres. “We have a bias towards testing in the wet, because it is in this performance area where drivers come closest to the limits of their tyre’s performance,” he explained.

Apart from the five tests that assessed performance in ‘typically British’ wet conditions (wet braking, straight aquaplaning, wet cornering, curved aquaplaning and wet handling), the magazine also examined five further non-wet factors – dry braking, dry handling, rolling resistance, in-car noise and the all-important price tag. The results were not as predictable as might have been expected, with most premium brand products upstaged by associate brand and budget alternatives (see table).

This year’s results were dominated by Vredestein and second brand Maloya, whose Hi-Trac and Futura Primato scooped first and second place. Third place went to Continental’s ContiEcoContact3 tyre, with Fulda and Uniroyal products taking forth and fifth. Something that was surprising as an observer was the mediocre to disappointing performance of the premium brands. Michelin, for example, is likely to be disappointed by its 16th position. However, the French manufacturer can always point to its outstanding performance in the rolling resistance test as its main focus.

Another turnout for the books was Goodyear associate brand Fulda out performing both Goodyear and Dunlop branded tyres to earn 4th place and a recommended badge. The Fulda Carat Attiro was particularly strong in wet braking, straight aquaplaning, wet cornering and wet handling, where it consistently finishing amongst the top five performers. The tyre also finished top of the dry handling test.

“I am extremely pleased with this latest accolade for Fulda. This is the biggest tyre test in Britain and we were being compared with the UK’s leading brands,” said Fulda brand manager, Marcus White. “Fulda has a long standing reputation for high-performance tyres in the demanding German market so these results come as no surprise and can only assist us in continuing to grow the Fulda brand in the UK.”

Perhaps the most noticeable omission was the absence of a score for Kumho. The report included a brief explanation of what happened under the curious heading – “Kumho: Missing in action.” Tyres & Accessories asked Kumho UK managing director, Steve Tidmarsh to fill in the gaps.

The Auto Express’ official line is: “There were significant differences between the supplied Kumho Solus rubber and the ones we bought. Kumho explained the specification was being changed at the time we bought the tyres, and the new version is on sale now.”
The tyres in question came from “a different manufacturing batch” Mr Tidmarsh explained. However, the Kumho MD reported that the company is taking away the positive news that its tyre would have come 9th had it have been officially included in the rankings. Furthermore, according the MD, the version of the Solus KH15 that did so well is the test is the tyre that is now available on the market.

As far as Mr Tidmarsh is concerned, the official result is nothing more than a stroke of bad luck, which Kumho is not alone in experiencing as a tyre manufacturer. Auto Express consumer editor, Kim Adams, told T&A much the same thing, saying that almost every year there is one make that experiences this kind of discrepancy.

Testing times

So what’s next for tyre testing? Speaking to the man behind the magazine’s tyre tests, consumer editor, Kim Adams, reveals that this year could be the last time the publication will test 14 inch products. The team have already started planning next year’s tests and say that they are considering putting 16 or 17 sizes through their paces. Their decision will guided by the magazines inclusive ethos, and the belief that its tests should be as representative as possible. Large and obscure sizes are out of the question.

What about the range of tyres tested? “Other magazines only test a handful of tyres whereas and we are the only magazine to test this many every year,” said Kim Adams. Having said that the 20 that the magazine chose this time around represents the limit the magazine is likely to do again in terms of quantity. According to the consumer editor this is due to the limited time the magazine has available for testing, not to mention the logistics of managing the roughly 200 rims necessary to keep all the tyres moving.

Some T&A readers have suggested they would like to see tests compare the relative performance of say two different sizes of the same product. “We have thought about this, but we would rather test a range of brands than a number of sizes. We want to make it accessible to our readers, testing tyres that our readers actually use,” Mr Adams added.

This approach appears to be working as the tests are resulting in a “very strong response” from readers. And this popularity amongst consumers, is understandably good news for the participating manufacturers. There was a consensus amongst the parties T&A spoke to that tests are becoming more popular and more influential.

In the eight years that Kim Adams has been in charge of the tyre testing at Auto Express, tests have taken place at two key venues Conti’s Ulvade, Texas, site and Goodyear’s Mireval proving ground. This is all down to the consistent weather that can be achieved in these places. And all this requires the cooperation of manufacturers, whose assistance, according to Mr Adams, is invaluable. The next set of Auto Express test results are expected to be published in May/June 2006, with the venue to be decided by the end of 2005.

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