AKRON-Dealers gathering in Las Vegas Oct. 29 for Goodyear's annual get-together will get their first good look at a new family of tires designed expressly for the growing number of luxury and ``crossover'' sport-utility vehicles built on passenger car rather than light truck platforms.
Goodyear officials are calling the new Fortera HL-which stands for ``highway luxury''-a ``cross between a passenger car and light truck tire.''
It combines the rugged appearance of the Goodyear Wrangler RT/S, they said, the quietness of the lower-profile Wrangler HP, and the traction, handling and treadwear features of the company's Integrity tire, which is original equipment on the Lexus RX300 and Honda MDX.
Members of the trade press were given a preview of the new tire Oct. 16 by means of a phone- and Internet-based Webcast-also a public relations first for the company.
Initially at least, the Fortera HL will be distributed solely through Goodyear dealers and company-owned stores. Eventually it will be available in 16 sizes, the first 10 of which will be shipped beginning Nov. 1. The tire will retail for about 10 percent more than Goodyear's Wrangler RT/S, according to Goodyear officials who conducted the press briefing.
While the tire presently is available only in the replacement market, several U.S. and off-shore auto makers are evaluating the Fortera HL, which means it could make its first original equipment appearance in 2004, Goodyear officials said. Meanwhile, the Akron-based tire maker plans to kick off a print advertising campaign promoting the Fortera HL in January.
Steve Myers, Goodyear's marketing manager for light truck tires, said the Fortera HL reflects the changes taking place in the automotive market: namely, the shift by consumers away from truck-based SUVs and toward crossover and luxury-priced models. Where the rugged, aggressive shouldered Goodyear Wrangler has enjoyed popularity among owners of more traditional sport-utilities, those with crossover and luxury SUVs typically want ``the look of an SUV tire, but the ride, comfort and handling of a car,'' he said.
Sales of crossover SUVs rose 67 percent last year to 581,000 vehicles, according to J.D. Power and Associates. The research firm expects sales of such vehicles to climb to 895,000 this year and 1.9 million by 2006.
Mr. Myers said the Fortera HL also is targeted at the luxury SUV segment, which increased 23.7 percent during the first nine months of the 2000 model year, according to R.L. Polk & Co. That research firm said sales of such vehicles appear particularly strong among baby boomers, who account for 63.9 percent of all luxury SUV purchases.
The name ``Fortera''-Goodyear prefers to think of it as a brand-was derived by combining the Latin words ``fortis,'' which means strength, and ``terra,'' meaning earth. Officials used ``refined ruggedness'' to describe the Fortera HL's performance. Mr. Myers said the new tire's key attributes are an elegant appearance, quiet, smooth ride and aggressive shoulder and sidewall styling. It comes with a 60,000-mile limited tread warranty and carries a Uniform Tire Quality Grading of 540 AB.
Produced at Goodyear's plants in Valleyfield, Quebec, Union City, Tenn., and Lawton, Okla., the Fortera HL features a triple-compound tread overtop a double-steel-belted, two-ply polyester-reinforced body. The Fortera HL's tread pattern extends into its shoulder area, adding to its aggressive appearance.