Michelin targets “real world benefits” beyond tyre labelling
Michelin’s newest tyres, the Energy Saver + passenger car tyre and the Agilis + light commercial vehicle tyre score good results on the European tyre label, with the former’s sample size achieving B in fuel efficiency and A in wet grip and the latter’s scoring CB (both with two sound waves at 70dBs if you’re really interested). But at the French manufacturer’s recent event in Stockholm, Sweden to mark the end of its Performance Tour 2012, Michelin representatives preferred to talk about the full range of characteristics developed for its latest tyres than to dwell on good labelling results. Marketing director, Gary Guthrie told Michelin’s guests that the “information contained on the tyre label is terrifically important, [but] it has never been [Michelin’s] philosophy” to focus on selected criteria.
Rather than dwell on the high quality grades achieved by the new tyres, Michelin reframed the reduced rolling resistance and increased wet grip qualities by talking about how, in Guthrie’s words, “this relates to society as a whole.”
In fact, during his introduction, Guthrie said that the new Energy Saver + PCR “saves 200 litres of fuel over its life” compared with a “regular tyre”; the Agilis + LCV tyre was said to “save 270 litres” over its life too. The company also promises “shorter stopping distances” and “longer tyre life” compared to competitors and their predecessors in Michelin’s range.
In the context of more cars being on the roads globally – 1.6 billion cars by 2032 from 0.8 billion now – and road deaths rising in many territories, the manufacturer said the development of these tyres examined the costs related to this increase in cars. Though always maintaining that the label is “a good thing”, Guthrie mentioned the fact that “70 per cent of accidents occur on dry roads” and that tyre longevity is a key factor for both economic and ecological reasons.
All of this contributes to what the company refers to as the “real world benefits” of using its tyres. The labelling special feature in the August issue of Tyres & Accessories gives plenty of reasons why premium tyre manufacturers’ narrative is evolving since the voluntary introduction period started, but Michelin and other premium brands can also justifiably reason that their products have been engineered to more parameters than those on the label for some time.
The challenges of creating tyres that respond to a variety of requirements were well met by what was described as the “longest ever tyre test in real world conditions”, a test whose end was marked by the Stockholm gathering. Started on 5 April in Clermont-Ferrand and run by independent testing company Dekra, the new Michelin Energy Saver + was put up against Bridgestone’s Ecopia, Pirelli’s Cinturato P1, Continental’s PremiumContact 2 and the Goodyear Efficient Grip in a test that took in 30,840km of European roads all over the continent.
Fitted to a diesel Volkswagen Golf in size 195/65 R16, the test aimed to mirror “real world” driving conditions as closely as possible, with a 68kg “passenger” in the front seat and 40kg of “luggage” in the boot. Rotating the tyres throughout the two convoys of three cars (Michelin’s tyre was present in both groups as a control measure), the six cars travelled around 500km a day at an average of 82kmh, performing a wet braking test after 18,000km at TÜV facilities near Berlin. Alongside full weekly checks, Dekra made sure the pressure was correct each day too.
The results suggested that at the end point, the new Michelin tyre would reach the 1.6mm tread depth limit at 47,100km, yielding 9,300km more than the average of the other four tyres. Dekra’s testers estimated that the Continental tyre would last for 11,700km less – the shortest lifespan in the group, (though it’s worth remembering that Conti has released its PremiumContact 5 recently, for which it also claims better longevity) – while Pirelli was the closest longevity competitor at 8,200km less. Michelin’s tyre performed better than average at the 18,000km wet braking test too, stopping from 80kmh in a distance 1.2m shorter on average than its competitors.
So, what improvements has Michelin made in its newest passenger car and light commercial tyres? Michelin representative Emmanuel Brotons worked on the Energy Saver + project, and was present to talk visitors through the R&D behind the new tyre. The Energy Saver + has been designed with a 10 per cent larger footprint than the Energy Saver, with an internal layer of compound just below the tread to reduce energy consumption. The tyre’s profile has been engineered to reduce heat and deformation too.
Underlining the company’s commitment to producing products to deal with “real world” conditions, Brotons said that the company had emphasised dry braking, wet handling, longevity and comfort. The statistics quoted by Bretons to back up these characteristics as the most important included:
• “60 per cent of accidents occur in urban areas at low speed;
• “the 25 per cent of accidents that occur on curves are more dangerous;
• “99 per cent of the 30 per cent of accidents that occur on wet roads happen when there is very little water present;
• “and 20 per cent of fuel consumption is taken up by rolling resistance.”
While Brotons too stopped short of criticising the tyre label directly, it was clear that the accident analysis data used by Michelin in the development of the Energy Saver +, attained through partnerships such as with enhanced through the Traffic Accident Research chair of the Dresden University of Technology in Germany, has informed the tyre’s development more than labelling legislation. He also noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Michelin’s Energy MXT tyre, the first tyre made with a high-silica compound to reduce rolling resistance.
On the Agilis + light commercial vehicle tyre, Michelin representative Nora Vass also underlined the company’s preference “to have a well-balanced tyre” over one made for labelling. The tyre combines reduced fuel consumption, reduced braking distance shorter by 17m than a tyre meeting the minimum label requirements, and greater mileage and robustness. The tyre has anti-scrape shields to protect the tyre from damage, looking at “real world” conditions of hitting curbs or potholes, with eight anti-scrape patches.
The overall strategy is one that the company calls Michelin Total Performance, and these tyres represent the company’s latest attempt to resolve difficult conflicts. Exemplifying this, Michelin explains that in the area of energy efficiency, reducing rolling resistance is often opposed to increased longevity, as the easiest way to maximise the latter is to add more rubber to the tread, and this will increase fuel consumption through more rubber being deformed with each rotation of the wheel.
Michelin Total Performance promises to avoid what must be a tempting compromise, since in the labelling age, only the first of these two characteristics will be presented to the customer at the point of sale by law. Another such challenge of labelling is the often documented problems of combining the standard tyre label with winter or Nordic tyres – what Guthrie calls “a great example” of why labelling is not the whole issue.
And this raises an important point for Michelin at this juncture. The company, alongside other premium brand manufacturers, is increasingly seeing it as their “job to educate the consumer about choosing the correct tyre”, according to Guthrie. The Stockholm Performance Tour event is part of this, and Michelin says it will “educate… 12,000 dealers around Europe about what is, and what isn’t, on the tyre label.
Energy E-V tyre
Finally, Michelin also used the event to present its latest electric vehicle tyre, the Energy E-V tyre. The company says that the tyre can help to improve an electric vehicle’s “range by six per cent” – something that Michelin says represents “a great achievement considering the cost” of making this improvement with a newly developed battery. And – having persistently said that “our goal is not an AA label” throughout the event – the tyre’s label? It has become the first AA Michelin passenger car tyre.