Comparative tyre test highlights grey import risk
Chinese tyres often rank poorly in comparative tests undertaken by European publications, unable to match the performance of premium rivals. But what sort of tyres do these premium manufacturers themselves produce for the Chinese market, and how would they fare against their European market siblings? German motoring magazine Auto Bild assigned its staff the task of finding out, and the results were interesting.
Representing Europe for the purposes of the test was a ContiPremiumContact 5 in size 205/55 R 16, the presence of an ECE type approval mark testifying that the Continental tyre was manufactured for the European market. Up against the Conti tyre were ten same-size tyres from European, US and Asian manufacturers, including Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear and Pirelli. Each of the ten tyres was produced for sale in China. In theory, these tyres shouldn’t be found on European roads, however some make their way here as grey imports and are bought by consumers who may not realise exactly what they’ve purchased.
As Auto Bild informed its readers, each major regional market has its own particular regulations and environmental requirements that tyres must meet. Furthermore, consumer preferences play a role when it comes to tyre development – Chinese motorists, for example, consider low noise and comfortable ride the most important qualities, while at the same time, tyres made for the Chinese market must also be able to stand up to the poor roads often encountered. Western European countries, on the other hand, have many miles of motorway, and safety and fuel consumption are the highest priorities.
In some cases, the Chinese market tyres tested by Auto Bild were scarcely discernable from their European market counterparts. The Michelin Energy, for example, is a name familiar with consumers in our region and the ‘MXV 8’ suffix (a model designation not used in Europe) only appeared in small letters on the sidewall. Nevertheless, the absence of an ECE code makes using this tyre, produced in Michelin’s Chinese factory for the domestic market, illegal in Europe.
How they performed
The ten Chinese tyres and the European benchmark were put through their paces in tests that measured handling, braking ride comfort, external noise and rolling resistance in the dry plus aquaplaning (on the straight and in curves), circular driving and braking in wet conditions. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese market tyres performed well in areas important to Chinese consumers – the European market Continental tyre performed worst out of the eleven when it came to external road noise, while all gained good results for ride comfort (even though the Continental tyre took first place).
But it was an entirely different matter when the Chinese market tyres were taken out of their comfort zone. The wet braking test separated the wheat from the chaff, commented Auto Bild. When braking from 100km/h (62.1mph), the Continental tyre stopped in 45.8 metres, a whole 7.5 metres before the second best performing tyre, the Bridgestone Turanza T001. The worst performing tyre in the test, the Sumitomo Rubber Industries-produced Dunlop SP Touring T1, took an additional 23.7 metres to stop. When it came to straight line aquaplaning and wet handling, the Chinese market Bridgestone tyre also performed well, returning a better result than the European market Continental in the first of these tests. The Chinese market Pirelli Cinturato P1 also performed well in the aquaplaning test and the Goodyear Efficient Grip in the wet handling. In last place once again was the Dunlop SP Touring T1.
The overall average rating for the five wet weather tests saw the Continental tyre on top with a ‘very good’ result. The Bridgestone tyre also delivered respectable performance, followed by the Goodyear and Pirelli products. Last place was occupied by the Dunlop tyre. Average results for the five dry weather tests saw the Continental and Goodyear tyres taking equal first place, with Bridgestone, Pirelli, Michelin, Giti and Yokohama brand tyres close behind. Last place was a draw between the Chao Yang Radial RP26 and the Dunlop SP Touring T1; it must be pointed out that Dunlop tyres sold in Asia are not produced by Goodyear Dunlop, as is the case in Europe and North America.
Commenting on Auto Bild’s findings, editor Henning Klipp stated that “the level of performance for the Chinese market tyres was far behind that of the European brand tyre. Some of the wet surface results were particularly bad. The Far East tyres were very convincing when it came to external road noise, however we believe that safety takes priority to comfort!”
To ensure a consumer receives tyres manufactured for use in the European market, Auto Bild recommends purchasing directly from a dealer, either at an outlet or via the internet. The invoice a customer receives should state that the tyres meet all appropriate regulations and should also give the tyre’s performance in the European label.