In support of its ``umbrella strategy'' of run-flat offerings, Goodyear had both its Extended Mobility Tires and its branded PAX tires on display at the recent North American International Auto Show.
The run-flat dichotomy at Goodyear is mirrored throughout the industry. Other tire makers like Continental A.G. and Pirelli S.p.A. are pushing their self-supporting tires as an interim run-flat solution while they investigate inner support ring technologies that can support heavier loads.
Continental's internal support ring system-which is similar to PAX but fitted on a standard wheel-also made an appearance at the Detroit show, as did Group Michelin's own PAX system, which gained its first North American original equipment fitment on the 2004 Rolls Royce Phantom. But even Michelin is pushing its own Zero Pressure self-supporting tires while it waits for PAX to take hold.
Michelin said Cadillac has chosen for its 2004 XLR two-seat sports coupe the Zero Pressure, run-flat version of the Michelin Pilot HX MXM4.
``I believe we've made more progress in the last three or four years than we have in the last 10,'' said Bill Hopkins, vice president for global product marketing and technology planning at Goodyear. ``There was a lot of talk; now you're seeing evidence.''
The PAX fitment on Audi A.G.'s Pikes Peak crossover concept vehicle was Goodyear's first public showing of the system. It hails from a 2-year-old licensing agreement between Goodyear and Michelin. Across the show floor, Goodyear's EMT tires were mounted on the Ford Freestyle FX crossover sport-utility vehicle that will go into production in 2004.
The point of showing both run-flat systems is to make auto makers aware that they do have options, Mr. Hopkins said. The demands of the vehicle, coupled with economics, will dictate which system gets used, he said. But he acknowledged that self-supporting tires, with their thickened sidewalls, can not carry heavier loads such as that on SUVs.
``I think the PAX concept will be the foundation for run-flat systems as we go forward, but there will be versions of it,'' Mr. Hopkins said.
Until a standard is established, Goodyear intends to support both technologies, he said. It will take at least until the end of this decade for run-flats to achieve a good presence in the original equipment market because of redesign issues, he said, and even longer to establish a standard. Mr. Hopkins projects that by the end of this decade, just less than 50 percent of vehicles worldwide will be on run-flat tires.
That estimate is ambitious, said Don Baldwin, manager of new business development for Michelin North America Inc. The same consumers who buy private brand tires also are buying cars.
``Those low-cost vehicles will have a hard time supporting the cost of the run-flat systems,'' he said. ``Even the high-priced vehicles are having a hard time supporting it.''
Run-flat systems can add $100 to $500 to the production cost of the car, which is not well received by car makers who are ``scratching for pennies to take cost out of vehicles,'' he said.
Goodyear's EMT is still, by volume, the most prevalent run-flat technology in the market, but the point is to find the right technology for each application, Mr. Hopkins said. ``We've been in the market with EMT, but if a customer like Audi requests PAX, we can supply that now.''
Car makers, Michelin's Mr. Baldwin said, likely would prefer self-supporting tires for their simplicity-they can be mounted on standard wheels and are more easily mounted in vehicle assembly plants. ``That said, they have difficulty accepting the fuel efficiency loss, the added mass and the loss of comfort that they typically get from a self-supporting tire,'' he explained.
The beauty of PAX, he said, is despite the added mass the tires still yield better fuel efficiency because the rolling resistance is better.
Under the terms of their two-year-old technical joint venture, Goodyear and Michelin are working on future run-flat concepts that could be made public within the next year to 18 months, Mr. Hopkins said. ``We're bitter competitors in the marketplace...but our engineers have come to some common agreements.''
Goodyear and Michelin expect to come forward jointly with advanced technology that will move the standard more rapidly to run-flat systems and their related tire pressure monitoring systems, he said.
The new system will be radial tire based, but it will address safety and convenience to an even greater extent, he said. ``I think it's the next generation of product,'' much like radials succeeded bias-ply tires.
``The new tires will have an electronics component that will make them very important to the vehicle,'' Mr. Hopkins said. ``As we move to the future, this will start to change the game because we can add more value to the tire.''
The time is right for a new standard. Both EMT and PAX require low-pressure warning systems in the interior of the vehicle, which auto makers previously viewed negatively in terms of redesign costs, Mr. Hopkins said.
``Today, because of the TREAD Act, tire pressure monitoring systems are mandatory on some vehicles beginning this November,'' he said, ``so the cost penalty of a redesign to accommodate the low pressure warning has been taken away.''
Consumer interest in run-flat technologies also is very high, both in the U.S. for safety reasons, he said, and in Europe, for the convenience of not having to change a tire as well as the space freed up by doing away with the spare tire. Between 75 and 85 percent of consumers are very interested in run-flat technologies, he said.
Other tire makers are pushing their own run-flat technologies. Bridgestone Corp. is marketing its Self-Supporting Run-Flat Tire or SSR, which is similar to EMT and presently on the Lexus SC430, while its technical partner Continental's system features an internal support ring that works on a standard wheel. The Conti Safety Ring system, already in the European market, appeared at the Detroit Auto Show on the Mercedes-Benz Maybach.
Pirelli's self-supporting tire is designated as an option on the new Mini Cooper, but the company also is a technical partner for PAX.
A Hankook executive told Tire Business the company has done some work on run-flat technology, but for now is concentrating on its alliance with Michelin and its PAX system.