LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz.—there is ``an active commitment on behalf of our company to make the safest winter tire in the world,'' said Dennis Gaede, president of Nokian Tyres Inc., in opening remarks at the firm's annual dealer meeting, Feb. 15 at the Wigwam Resort near Phoenix. That's important for Nokian's Finland-based parent, Nokian Tyres P.L.C., because winter tires make up 57 percent of its worldwide tire sales.
A group of 24 dealers and distributors learned about two new Nokian tires that will be available in the North American market in 1999:
The Hakkapeliitta Q—a studless winter tire designed for improved grip on ice without compromising durability or handling on snow or slush.
The Nokian NRV—a V-rated, all-weather performance tire with an asymmetrical tread pattern and stiffer apex rubber compound designed for improved steering, handling and cornering on wet surfaces.
Antero Juopperi, research and development vice president for the parent company, said the Hakka Q's spiral sipe system is responsible for a 24-percent improvement in braking on ice or snow on cars equipped with antilock braking systems. On cars with regular brakes, the Q-rated tire provided a 16-percent improvement in braking, he added.
Mr. Juopperi also told the dealers that tests comparing the Hakka Q with the Bridgestone Blizzak showed the Hakka Q had 16-percent greater tread depth after 36,500 miles.
Olavi Kaartinen, export manager for Nokian Tyres P.L.C., said delivery of the Hakka Q will begin in July, and most of the popular sizes will be delivered by September.
Mr. Kaartinen said shipment of the V-rated Nokian NRV would begin in March and continue throughout the summer.
``The best solution seems to be this kind of tread pattern,'' said Mr. Juopperi of the NRV's asymmetrical tread design. He added that the tire has a ``Termo Silica'' rubber compound that allows it to perform well in warm or cold temperatures.
He said dealers need to be aware that the tire is unidirectional and designed to be mounted with the narrow band of tread facing outside for peak performance. The deep groove between the two tread patterns and the long, unidirectional grooves on the inside tread provide better aquaplaning resistance, Mr. Juopperi said.
He added that improper mounting of NRV tires would affect performance on wet surfaces, but would not damage the tires or put drivers at risk.
Mr. Gaede pledged that dealers would have enough product to sell. He said the company has ``set a goal to have 100 percent of ordered products in North America by Sept. 1.''
This year Nokian plans to increase production to about 12,500 tires per day, Mr. Kaartinen added. A companywide factory expansion program is expected to increase annual production capacity to 5.5 million tires by 2003, up from 3.8 million units in 1997.
Officials also said, while there won't be any national TV advertising, a new 60-second TV spot with room for a nine-second local dealer ``tag'' and revised print materials are available.
But, Mr. Gaede told dealers, ``The first priority is to have your sales people trained to talk about the products.''