PHOENIX—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. introduced its second run-flat tire and its newest version of a self-sealing tire to about 500 dealers and auto trade reporters in a series of meetings held Feb. 7-13 in Phoenix. The Firehawk SZ50 EP RFT with UNI-T AQ is a run-flat tire designed as a replacement fitment for the Chevrolet C5 Corvette that can be driven for 50 miles at speeds up to 55 mph with zero air pressure.
Its UNI-T AQ technology includes dual layering of the tread rubber to offset the effects of wear on the tire's performance on wet surfaces.
The SZ50 EP RFT is available in two sizes: P245/45ZR17 and P275/40ZR18.
The Firestone FT70c with Sealix is an upgraded self-sealing tire version of the original FT70c introduced in 1997. The inside of the tire is lined with a polymer material BFS said can seal tread punctures up to 3/16 inch in diameter without noticeable loss of air pressure.
At the same time, BFS also introduced a non-run-flat version of the Firehawk SZ50—the SZ250 EP with UNI-T AQ—and debuted the SS20 with UNI-T, a performance tire that replaces the Firestone SS10, which was introduced in 1995.
The Z-rated SZ50 EP will be available in 16 sizes, series 40 through 60; the SS20 is available in 28 sizes in series 50 through 70 with S- and T-speed ratings.
"These four products are only for the Family Channel—our family of (independent) dealers and company stores," said Shu Ishibashi, vice president of consumer tire marketing for the Bridgestone/Firestone Tire Sales Co. (BFTS).
He said these new products will not be made available to mass merchandisers.
BFS hopes C5 Corvette owners will buy the SZ50 RFT to replace Goodyear's Eagle EMT run-flat, which is the original-equipment fitment.
The SZ50 RFT can be used with the Schrader-Bridgeport air pressure monitoring system that is OE on the Corvette, said Mike Mileski, Firestone product planning manager.
The reinforced sidewalls and other enhancements make each SZ50 RFT 12 to 15 pounds heavier than a conventional tire, Mr. Mileski said, affecting rolling resistance and fuel mileage. But the overall vehicle weight is about the same, because no spare tire or jack is needed.
The SZ50 EP RFT run-flats also are more expensive, Mr. Mileski said, and require an air-pressure monitoring system.
To spur sales, Phil Pacsi, product marketing manager for consumer tires marketing, said direct mail will be used to target members of Corvette clubs.
The Sealix self-sealant material in the FT70c is applied evenly in a spiral pattern on the inside of the tire, said John Cervone, manager of premium and LT tire development, so the tire rolls smoothly. Although the Sealix material adds about 2.5 to 3 pounds to the weight depending on the size of the tire, it has a negligible effect on rolling resistance and fuel economy, he said.
Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. first introduced a self-sealing tire in 1980. Mr. Cervone said the self-sealing material on previous models was sprayed on the inside of the tire and uneven application made those tires difficult to balance.
The FT70c with Sealix initially will be available in 19 sizes in 60 to 75 series. The retail price will be about 30 percent higher than FT70c tires without Sealix. BFTS will begin offering this tire in early March in about 100 test markets.
Mr. Pacsi called the FT70c with UNI-T "the most successful tire line we have." The self-sealing tire is designed for "soccer moms," he said, and for others who would find changing a tire extremely difficult or dangerous.
"We have the technology to provide tires that consumers want and need," Mr. Ishibashi said. Run-flat and self-sealing tires meet consumer concerns about being stranded by tire failure, he added.
Citing figures from the American Automobile Association, Mr. Ishibashi said about 3.3 million service calls, or about 11 percent of all calls for service made by AAA members, were the result of tire failure.
The federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranks tire problems No. 3 on the list of causes of auto breakdowns behind running out of gas and battery failure, he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone also unveiled a new marketing plan to pump up sales of Firestone-brand Firehawk tires.
Paul Napoli, manager of advertising for BFTS, said the Firehawk logo has been redesigned, and a new package of print and television ads will emphasize the strong link between the Firestone brand and its racing successes, especially in the Indianapolis 500.
The line's new slogan will be: "Born at Indy. Performs everywhere."