NOKIA, Finland-In Finland-a land of cold, harsh winters-icy, snow-covered roads simply aren't an acceptable reason for being late to work or a social engagement. The intrepid Finns don't close their schools or cancel evening get-togethers merely because of blizzard-like weather.
No, they take such conditions in stride, driving on to their destination and usually arriving on schedule, Lasse Kurkilahti, president of Nokia Tyres Ltd. recently told a group of visiting journalists touring the Finnish tire maker's headquarters in Nokia, a city about 90 miles north of Helsinki.
One way Finnish motorists cope with such demanding winter driving, he said, is through their universal use of snow tires-nearly all of which are studded to give them even greater traction.
Nokia Tyres, a specialist in winter tire production for nearly 60 years, says tungsten-carbide studs can increase the lateral and longitudinal grip of winter tires by as much as 45 percent on smooth ice.
What's more, using today's light-weight-0.7-gram-studs has reduced the rate of abrasion to road surfaces to half what it once was when heavier 3.1-gram studs were used, the company said.
Since nearly a third of Finland lies north of the Arctic Circle, the country's motorists-and its government-take winter driving conditions seriously.
A nation of roughly 5 million people and 2 million motor vehicles, Finland averages about 600 traffic fatalities per year-more than half of which occur in winter. For this reason, snow tires are mandated by law and speed limits are lowered during winter months-a safety practice credited with reducing the number of fatal accidents by one-third.
In fact, most new cars purchased by Finnish motorists come with two sets of tires and wheels-one set for summer use, the other for winter driving, according to Pentti Rantala, Nokia Tyres' vice president of marketing.
The all-season tires commonly used by North America's motorists in winter are rated as summer tires in Finland and cannot legally be used there during winter months, he pointed out.
To foster a greater appreciation for true winter tires, the company, in March, invited a group of U.S. and Canadian journalists to tour its Nokia plant and to drive on its studded Hakkapeliitta 10 and unstudded NRW M+S tires at the firm's Ivalo proving grounds.
It was the severity of Finland's winters, in fact, that persuaded the company to get into tire manufacturing nearly 60 years ago, according to Nokia Tyres' president, Mr. Kurkilahti.
During the 1930s, he said, many tires imported into the country were not well suited to Finland's demanding winter conditions. So the company entered into tire manufacturing, ultimately choosing to specialize in passenger, light truck and forestry tires.
Today at its Nokia plant, built in 1945 and expanded in 1968, the company produces about 2.8 million car and van tires annually along with 136,000 heavy-duty tires for forestry and other applications. A second plant, at Lieksa near the country's eastern border with Russia, produces bike tires and inner tubes.
The company exports tires to 40 countries, including the U.S. and Canada, where it has been distributing tires for more than a decade.