PALERMO, Sicily-Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. took to the back roads of the Italian island of Sicily May 12-17 to introduce its latest performance tire-the P7000 Supersport-destined for the North American market. Using the winding, hilly roads of the famed Targa Florio race circuit that runs through the mountains and along the coast of Sicily, the New Haven, Conn.-based tire maker gave North American tire and automotive journalists the chance to test the handling, predictability and ride of the Z-rated, all-season tire.
Later, at Pirelli's test facility in Vizzola, Italy, journalists compared the tire's wet weather handling and noise with that of two competitors.
PATC is targeting the P7000 Supersport at the ultra high performance market, which Franco Carini, PATC's director of marketing, called the fastest growing tire segment in North America-the next two being cosmetic performance tires and light truck tires, respectively.
The tire will be sold only through independent dealers, said Mr. Carini, because ``dealers are our most important channel.''
The P7000 Supersport is the seventh Pirelli-brand tire PATC has introduced this year, including both high performance and commodity (broad market) tires. The launch of one of these tires, the P400 Aquamile, an 80,000-mile, wet handling radial, was delayed from 1994 to February 1995, due to the eight-month labor strike against PATC, which ended in March.
This aggressive introduction schedule is part of Pirelli Armstrong's strategy to become a stronger player in North America and to increase sales to the dealer channel, Mr. Carini said.
Ten years ago, he noted, Pirelli's strategy in the U.S. was to sell original equipment tires for imported cars. ``Now it really is to have a full range of products for the U.S. consumer,'' he said.
The development of the P7000 Supersport borrowed heavily from Pirelli Group's (PATC's parent) efforts in rally racing worldwide, PATC executives said.
A recent change in rally championship tire regulations reduced the number of times tires can be changed during a single stage of a race to handle the many different road surfaces encountered. As a result, a rally tire must be able to perform at high speeds on a myriad of road surfaces and conditions including wet, dry, ice and snow.
``The effect of (the) new ruling was to bring the tire needs of world championship rally drivers and motorists with high- and ultra-high performance road cars much closer together,'' PATC said in a release.
The P7000 Supersport features the same tread pattern used on Pirelli's intermediate tires that won the 1995 world championship Monte Carlo Rally.
Developed jointly by engineers at PATC in New Haven, Conn., and Pirelli Group in Milan, Italy, the tire uses a multi-polymer blend, silica-based tread compound for improved winter and wet-weather performance, as well as better wear resistance.
The tread employs a wide circumferential rib for improved steering response; two circumferential grooves for water expulsion; shoulder sipes for winter traction; and diagonal grooves, combined with sectional inclined circumferential grooves, to reduce hydroplaning.
The result is a tire that offers improved safety, wet handling, aquaplaning, mileage and winter properties, Mr. Carini said.
Initial production will be at Pirelli plants in Italy and Germany in five sizes P205/55ZR16 (89), P225/50ZR16 (92), P235/45ZR17 (93), P245/45ZR17 (95) and P275/40ZR17 (98). Twenty more sizes, and a summer version, will be added in June 1996. Eventually, the tires will be available in aspect ratios of 60, 55, 50, 45, 40 and 35 with rim diameters of 15 to 18 inches.
In 1996, production will be expanded to include PATC's factory in Hanford, Calif.
Tire Business photo by Dave Zielasko