A New Breed?
It has both the M+S mark and the Snowflake, but its rolling resistance is said to be comparable with a summer tyre. It reportedly has the slush grip of a premium winter tyre, but weighs 700 grams less and is quieter. No it’s not a riddle, I am of course referring to the new Optimo 4S, a tyre that manufacturer Hankook is promoting as the first in the next generation of all-season tyres.
Hankook’s decision to place the Optimo 4S centre stage on the company’s large Essen show stand (situated right opposite the entrance to Hall 3) is particularly resonant in light of the difficulties the winter/cold weather tyre market has been facing in supposedly safe ‘winter’ markets like Germany. From the talk going round Essen it was clear around 7 million of last winter’s unsold cold weather tyres were still floating around the German market in May. Could that be why Hankook decided to promote the all-season tyre, its hybrid silica compound and its built in ice/snow/slush/rain performance properties?
Apparently not. According to Hankook representatives, there are currently no plans for the new generation of all-season products to replace the Korean company’s winter offering. Rather the Optimo 4 S is being described as an “added alternative” for customers. Sales reps travelling around the European border areas (Germany, France, Benelux, for example) are being highlighted as indicative of the new product’s target market. Variable weather conditions, different laws and legal definitions, and the insurance implications that come with them make a single all-singing all-dancing all-season tyre appealing. For the same reason, the Optimo 4S is also likely to appeal to fleets, which made Tyres & Accessories think of the UK with its strong fleet share. Up till that point, the Optimo 4S was being described as something of a European product, but “serious consideration” is reportedly being given to the idea of bringing this tyre into the UK market.
According to Hankook, the Optimo 4S is “radically different from the other options.” This means that Hankook engineers have significantly reduced the performance pay-offs inherent in quality winter products (noise, more rolling resistance etc) to some of the narrowest gaps to date.
As a result the tyre will not be marketed as a cheap product. Apart from the obvious margin implications that come with this decision, by doing this Hankook is also embarking on a bit of myth busting. In some of the largest markets in mainland Europe, such as Germany, there is a kind of tyre snobbery attached to buying winter products. And the knock-on effect of this is that all-season tyres are seen as the cheap alternative. By positioning the Optimo 4S at a higher price point, Hankook is aiming to blow this stereotype right out of the water.
This is also demonstrated in the size portfolio associated with the new tyre. The Optimo 4S will be available in 41 sizes, including a number of Mercedes fitments. The new Optimo 4S all season tyre became available in June.
Seal of approval
Up till now the tyre industry as a whole has shied away from Environment labelling. However, Hankook recently became the first tyre manufacturer to receive the respected “Blue-Angel” mark on its new all-season tyre. The news means Hankook is the only tyre manufacturer to produce an all-season tyre accredited with the Blue-Angel mark. In case you were wondering, the Blue Angel is an eco-label and seal of approval from the German Institute for Quality Assurance and Certification (RAL), officially promoted by Umweltbundesamt (UBA), the Federal Environmental Agency of Germany. It is reputedly the oldest environmental award in the world and this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.
“We are very proud to be awarded the Blue Angel,” said Seung-Do Jin, Executive Vice President of Hankook Tire and COO in Europe. “Hankook Tire is the first tyre manufacturer ever that has been able to develop an all-season tyre that meets the high requirements of this quality and environmental seal.” Jin is convinced: “Our demanding and more and more ecology-minded European customers in particular will appreciate the advantages this piece of high-tech offers. By purchasing an Optimo 4S, they demonstrate their environmental consciousness, save fuel and avoid noise without having to compromise on performance and safety.”