VIZZOLA, Italy-What happens when you take two opposing performance characteristics-high mileage and wet grip-and try to achieve both in a commodity (non-high-performance) tire? If you are Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp., the answer is the P400 Aquamile, a new T-rated all-season radial, with an 80,000-mile treadwear warranty, that also performs well in the wet, the company said.
PATC introduced the Aquamile at a press briefing in Italy, June 27-30 and intended to show the tire to U.S. dealers Sept. 12. It has since postponed the dealer launch due to the ongoing United Rubber Workers' strike at the firm's two North American tire plants.
PATC now will unveil the tire to dealers next February to ensure an adequate product supply, a company spokesman said.
During the press introduction in Italy, tire and automotive journalists had an opportunity to experience the Aquamile firsthand, driving on them cross-country and then testing their wet performance against two competitors-the leading U.S. wet-weather tire, and the leading high-mileage tire-at Pirelli's test track at Vizzola, Italy.
PATC developed the P400 Aquamile specifically for the North American market, working closely with Pirelli S.p.A.'s engineers in Milan, Italy.
Trends for commodity tires in North America indicate consumers want tires with higher mileage, effective wet performance, greater comfort, lower aspect ratios, higher speed ratings, increasing rim diameters and better cosmetic appearance, according to Alex Coggi, PATC vice president of marketing.
``If these are the trends and these are the markets, then it is very important for us to compete in these new markets,'' Mr. Coggi said.
Within the commodity segment, Mr. Coggi said two sub-categories have emerged. One is the aqua tire, providing superior wet-weather performance; the other is the high-mileage tire.
One in four tire consumers is seeking an aqua-concept tire, he said, while 75 percent are looking for mileage.
``Pirelli is trying to reach both consumers'' with the new tire, he explained.
To achieve the desired wet traction and mileage, PATC had to invent a new tread compound that would not advance one performance characteristic at the expense of the other.
``A lot of companies in the past would go with high natural rubber (content) in the tread, which gives very good winter traction and decent wear, but not wet traction,'' said David Sulkowski, PATC design engineer. ``We've come up basically with a different SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber) solution.''
Mr. Sulkowski would not elaborate on the new compound but, when asked, noted it contains no silica, a component some tire makers are using in place of some carbon black in tire manufacturing to improve rolling resistance and wet driving performance.
PATC said it believes the new compound ``bridges the mileage/wet grip gap.''
``The Pirelli P400 Aquamile ensures American drivers no longer have to choose between higher mileage and maximum safety in the wet,'' the company said.
Beyond compounding, the Aquamile features a non-directional tread that includes three wide, open circumferential grooves for channeling water.
The tread's diagonal/lateral sipes, groove density and tread block pitch sequence combine to improve snow traction and reduce tread noise.
The tire is constructed with two high-density steel belts, capped by two zero-degree nylon overlays, which contribute to higher mileage and even wear, the company said.
Depending on size and aspect ratio, the casing may contain one or two plies of nylon or polyester.
The Aquamile initially will come in eight sizes, four with white sidewalls. Eventually, 16 60-, 65-and 70-series sizes in 13-16 inch rim diameters will be offered.
The tire, which carries a UTQG rating of 520, will be built at PATC's Hanford, Calif., plant.