Smithers Scientific Services, the research and consulting firm, has announced that it will close its tyre and automotive testing complex at Pecos, Texas, due to lack of demand. 31 staff are affected and will be offered equivalent jobs at other facilities. The closure comes despite attempts to broaden the client base. The 5,800 acre facility, which Smithers bought from Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire in 1987, will be put up for sale.
The ContiTech Group of the Hanover-based Continental AG closed 2000 as the most successful business year in its history and, for the first time, each of its business units posted a positive operating result. Compared to 1999, the company increased sales by 4.2 per cent to 1.79 billion Euro. In 2000 ContiTech generated 68 percent of sales with automotive manufacturers and 32 percent with industrial customers in the non-automotive sector. The operating result (EBIT) experienced a disproportionate increase of 6.8 per -cent to 139 million Euro.
Following the tragic Concorde crash last summer, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. (EADS) approached tyre manufacturers to see if any research was on-going to improve the resistance of tyres to damage by foreign objects. In Paris, Michelin unveiled its response, the radial NZG. NZG, which stands for “near zero growth” is described as “the latest innovation in radial technology”. It uses a high-modulus reinforcement material which is lighter and offers higher damage resistance. The tyre was tested by running over a 30 cm blade both at taxiing and take-off speeds and the tyre suffered no damage.
Ford chief Jacques Nasser faced some tough questioning at yesterday’s Congressional hearing into the Firestone tyre/Ford Explorer situation. ‘Billy’ Tauzin, from Louisiana, revealed that one of the brands of tyre being used to replace the Firestones had a failure record nearly 25 times worse than the Wilderness. Nasser said that, if this was correct “then we’ll act on it”. Tauzin also criticised BF Inc’s John Lampe of attempting to shift the blame on to Ford.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that it is to open a defect investigation into the General Ameri*550 AS P235/70R16. The tyre is manufactured by Continental Tire North America and has been used as a replacement tyre for Firestone Wilderness ATs on Ford Explorers. The investigation follows initial research results show tread separation claims running at 124 per million. This exceeds the rates for any of the other tyres on the NHTSA list of tyres to be examined. The claims against the General Ameri*550 include seven crashes in which the tyre separation allegedly led to injuries. The NHTSA states that the defect investigation does not mean that it has determined these tyres to be unsafe, or to have a safety related defect. Simply that it warrants further investigation.
Sava, the Slovenian tyre manufacturer – 60 p.c. owned by the Goodyear group since 1998 – presented the “Effecta” to the public for the first time in mid-March. This S/T summer tyre, developed in cooperation with its European group headquarters in Luxembourg, a non-directional successor to the “Exact” line, is to be introduced in the market in 28 sizes, from 135/80 R 12 68 T to 185/65 R 15 88 T, by June this year. More than 300 tyre traders in total from 35 countries, among them far-flung places like Iceland or Lebanon, had assembled in the idyllic holiday resort of Bled to see the new Sava product launched. The German contingent consisted of about 50 members of Team, which markets all segments (car, light truck, truck) of the Sava brand exclusively in Germany. The new tyre is the first new product development since Goodyear took over almost two years ago. It derives directly from the Luxembourg research and development centre and is thus destined to represent Goodyear “state of the art” technology. What this means and how the “Effecta” could support Sava raising brand awareness in Western Europe which is one of the tyre manufacturer’s most important aims can be read in the April issue of NEUE REIFENZEITUNG.
Despite the recovery in vehicle sales in Asia over the past two years, analysts are predicting a slowdown in sales in parts of the region, notably South Korea. The Asian car market is expected to fall by 3% next year, with little sign of recovery in 2002.
The automotive business is moving more and more towards an “intelligent” chassis control or a “total chassis management”. In this scenario tyres are playing a role of growing importance. Today consumers and tyre manufacturers still focus on comfort, rolling resistance, handling etc. But what about tomorrow? Electronic sensors within the tyre will be able to supply additional information to the driver or to systems like ESP. For 20 years, the interaction between road and tyres has been studied at the University of Darmstadt and has for example led to the so-called “Darmstädter Tyre Sensor” or a special trailer for measurements concerning tyre noise emission. But in mid October – after events in 1996 and 1998 – this was also the place where the third “Reifenkolloquium” was held for international experts to discuss topics related to research and development in the tyre, wheel and related businesses. About 90 attendees were at the event this year. After an introductory speech entitled “The Tyre – Key Component For Driving Dynamics And Steering” another twelve lecturers followed. Divided into four sections “Tyre/Road Noise”, “Tyre Evaluation/Test”, “Models & Simulation” and “Sensors & Road Parameter Evaluation” they reported the recent results of their studies. Some of these, which are not too technical, are summarised in the November issue of NEUE REIFENZEITUNG.
Nokian Tyres has developed an intelligent tyre technology system that sends real-time data on tyre pressures and temperature to the driver’s mobile phone. No extra display is required inside the vehicle.
According to results from Tyrecheck 2000, carried out by Police forces throughout the UK, as many as one in ten cars on UK roads may be running on illegal tyres, 27% are, at best, close to the end of their safe and legal life. That’s in excess of 13million illegal tyres in use every day. Imagine then the figures for faulty shock absorbers hidden out of sight? Recent research carried out in the UK suggested that over 6 million out of 25 million (24%) cars on the road were running on at least one faulty shock absorber. Belgian research confirmed that this is not purely an UK problem when figures produced there showed 20-25% of motorists driving with faulty dampers. If the car driver is unaware of a problem, how can the industry realise the potential sales in the shock absorber aftermarket? The market is estimated by Datamonitor to be worth in excess of 124M Euro at Retail Selling Price (RSP) in the UK alone, and across Europe has a value of some 471M Euro at Manufacturer Selling Prices (MSP). How does the fast fit salesman persuade the customer that he needs a new shock absorber? Moreover, how does he persuade him that he needs to change a pair? More about this can be found in the December issue of TYRES & ACCESSORIES.
Pirelli has released first details of a new manufacturing system, called MIRS (Modular Integrated Robotised System). The company is investing 250 million Euros over the next five years. A MIRS plant that can produce one million tyres a year would employ 104 people in five shifts, would occupy 3,500 sq. m. and the investment cost (excluding the building itself) would be around 45 million Euros. According to Pirelli, MIRS reduces the steps of the tyre building process from the previous 14 to only three. Instead of passing the tyres “from hand to hand” in the production process, the MIRS work is done by robots. Tyre type and size are fed into the computer at the beginning of production, the rest is done by the computer alone, without human interference. MIRS is therefore a kind of mini-factory with an extremely high degree of flexibility. The factory can be built anywhere where there is a market. The technology, which Pirelli does not disclose and is not prepared to share with a competitor, not even under licence, was developed by Pirelli’s research and development department in co-operation with Italian universities and the Ministry of Research and Science. A pilot plant will start work in the Bicocca factory near Milan at the end of June 2000. The Italiens claim a manufacturing cost reduction of 25 p.c. for the MIRS method compared with the traditional way, and Pirelli boss Tronchetti Provera plans to manufacture three million tyres by the new method by the year 2003, or 15 p.c. of its high and ultra-high performance tyres. If all goes to plan, it will be possible to produce five million “MIRS tyres” within five years.
It is a well-known fact that Bridgestone does not stint itself in its Formula One commitment. For instance: The number of tyres carted to every race is 2,640 in two different compounds for dry and three different compounds for wet weather. Together with the costs of research and development plus marketing/advertising (which definitely accounts for the highest expenditure) it may amount to a nine-figure sum. In this context one has to ask: Cui bono? Or: Why do the Japanese involve themselves in Formula One at all? The current market share of the tyre giant in Europe is estimated to be about twelve per cent, therefore leaving room for further growth. And what would be more suitable for a Far Eastern tyre group keen to catch up in the lucrative European market than its omnipresence in the most important motor racing event worldwide (only in USA Formula One is met with relatively little interest)? When all is said and done: twelve of the 16 races are run on European soil. Takeshi Uchiyama, Managing Director of BS/FS Europe, describes his company’s objective, “We are determined to raise our global brand awareness”.To put it simply: If the Bridgestone logo is clearly visible every fortnight adorning streamers, bridges, vehicles, overalls, drivers’ caps and, last but not least, all the tyres, that must sooner or later penetrate the memory or consciousness of the mass media public. Ideally it also raises significantly the image of the brand as a low-profile quality tyre. And once this perception takes hold and people’s high opinion is tranferred to other segments, this reputation will not only benefit the high-performance segment but also other types of tyre.
The contact area between tyre and road surface is generally compared to the size of a postcard. An area, whose smallness bears no relation to its importance as the central spot where the interaction between motorcar and supporting ground takes place. Generations of experts have thought long and hard how to optimise this A6-sized contact area in the interest of road safety. The 21st and 22nd October saw the beginning of a new round in the eternal quest for more knowledge. On these dates the seventh conference in twelve years of the Association of German Engineers (VDI) took place under the headline “Reifen – Fahrwerk – Fahrbahn” (“Tyres – Chassis – Road Surface”) at the Hanover Congress Centre. As at several earlier meetings, the wheel was not studied in isolation but as the link between chassis and road surface. The central theme of the meeting was therefore the interaction between those three components. Each lecture or discussion session consisted of three half-hour presentations grouped together under subject matters such as “Reciprocal influences between tyres and road surface”, “Tyre noise”, “Measuring and devising models”, “Warning and run-flat systems”, “Vibration and comfort” as well as “Chassis concepts”. Almost 225 VDI members from the sectors of research and manufacturing had accepted the invitation. Apart from many car manufacturers the tyre industry was also well represented in Hanover and thanks to the disciplined lecturing techniques and to well-informed and motivated questions from the public the conference was able to live up as a genuine discussion forum to a large extent.
There are persistent rumours that Michelin will be entering Formula 1 from the year 2001. BMW/Williams is the most likely partner. It is expected that Michelin will make an announcement in December this year. Other rumours say that Goodyear intends to return to Formula 1 Racing as well, but research carried out by NEUE REIFENZEITUNG confirmed them to be unfounded. Very recently the Americans even anounced to pull out of the IRL and CART Series in the USA.