AKRON-When it comes to selling tires, what's on the sidewall can be just as important as what's on the tread. That's why Goodyear is developing ways to make tires look more stylish.
About 73 percent of today's new cars ride on blackwall tires, the tire maker said, while black sidewall tires now account for 37 percent of the replacement market-up 10 percent from two years ago and triple the level of 1979.
Designing a stunning black sidewall hasn't been easy, according to Bill Egan, chief engineer for product design and OE technology for Goodyear.
But with the advent of computer-aided design and engraved tire molds-instead of stamped ones-Goodyear has had success.
``People are more tire smart today,'' Mr. Egan said. ``Tire appearance is very important. Appearance has to match the tire's performance.''
That attitude has caused the move away from white-sidewall and raised-white-letter tires to the now-popular basic black. However, whitewalls still remain fashionable with muscle-car owners and older consumers, while white-letter tires are a mainstay with the Jeep Cherokee crowd, according to Ron Conlis, manager of planning and market research for Goodyear.
Also pushing the blackwall trend are car makers, who don't want a whitewall distracting from the ``unique'' wheels appearing on today's automobiles, Mr. Egan said. Additionally, the low-aspect ratios of high-performance tires don't allow room for whitewalls, the firm said.
``For years, we've squinted to read the tire name on a black sidewall,'' he said. ``New designs are easier on the eyes.''
Goodyear is using different textures for the lettering and background on its tires.
``We're creating higher contrast to make the tire name readable at a glance-even from afar,'' Mr. Egan said.
The Eagle Aquatred and Aquatred II all-season tires are Goodyear's latest examples of its techniques. The tires feature solid lettering on a vertical serrated background.
``The challenge is to increase contrast by making black appear blacker in some sidewall areas and less black in others,'' Mr. Egan said. ``Without contrast on a blackwall, the eye has to refocus, and the name on the sidewall is not recognizable quickly.''