Goodyear is so confident of its new G395 LHS commercial long-haul steer tire that it has placed a seven-year, three-retread, unlimited-mileage warranty on the casing.
Not only that, the tire maker also is offering what it calls its ``Steer Tire Challenge''-guaranteeing the G395 will exceed the real road mileage of comparable, competitive tires from other companies, or else Goodyear will retread the tire free of charge.
Sophisticated, high-tech software allowed Goodyear to design the G395, and the firm's proprietary Impact (Integrated Manufacturing Precision Assembly Cellular Technology) tire manufacturing techniques at its Danville, Va., truck and aircraft tire plant allow it to manufacture the tire with distinct consistency of excellence. This was according to Goodyear tire design and marketing executives at the official launch of the tire in Danville March 5, to an audience of commercial tire dealers, retreaders and media.
The G395 LHS boasts a number of distinctive features, including an 18/32-inch tread depth and high-tensile steel belting, with a polyamide (nylon) fourth belt to minimize corrosion when there are cuts in the tread. It also has a premium casing, five-rib design and, above all, a barrel-shaped footprint to maximize tread performance, said Tim Richards, Goodyear team leader-advanced truck tire engineering.
One of the outstanding features of the tire, according to Mr. Richards, is its ``evolving'' tread design. ``The tread has straight rib edges at first, but the edges turn to a zigzag pattern after wear, which means a reduced potential for irregular wear and cupping,'' he said.
Al Cohn, Goodyear manager-strategic initiatives/communications, said the G395 LHS will be premium-priced. While Mr. Cohn didn't give the exact price range, he did say its price will be slightly higher than the predecessor G397.
The G395 is being sold now in two common long-haul sizes-the 11R24.5 and 11R22.5. Two other sizes-the 295/75R22.5 and 285/75R24.5-will be available within the next few weeks, Mr. Cohn said.
The Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) Goodyear has had with Sandia National Laboratories since 1993 helped make the design of the G395 possible, according to Joe Zekoski, Goodyear director of commercial and farm tire technology.
``The agreement with Sandia allowed us to re-engineer our tire development process,'' he said.
``The classic method for developing a tire takes three to five cycles and is very expensive. Our re-engineered method takes only two cycles. We can design, engineer, adjust and fix the tire on the computer, without ever building a tire.''
Goodyear also developed through its CRADA partnership a laboratory treadwear test that reduces testing time and costs, according to Mr. Richards. ``With this method, we wear a tire out in a matter of weeks, rather than months,'' he said. ``This gives us more consistent results and removes environmental, vehicle, driver and route variations.''
Not that the company eschewed road testing.
It tested the G395 LHS extensively for treadwear, traction performance and durability at its 7,250-acre proving grounds in San Angelo, Texas, and provided the tire to selected commercial fleets for focus testing. In San Angelo, a laser mapped the tires in detail and at regular intervals to track their evolving wear patterns. The company's data display software allowed it to analyze some 250,000 treadwear measurements on each test tire, compared with only five a technician could obtain under previous manual testing methods.
If the CRADA-developed software made the design of the G395 LHS that much easier, the Impact technology at Danville made its manufacture possible, claimed Dan Harrison, manager of quality and technology at the Danville plant. Impact takes the variability out of steer tire manufacturing, creating tires of exceptional uniformity and quality, he said.
``Traditionally, you've had all these parts you have to assemble to make a tire,'' Mr. Harrison said. ``How you apply them can vary.'' The many steps of applying the liner, the barrier, the sidewall, etc., can lead to extreme variations in what Mr. Harrison called ``the Four S's''-set, spotting, splice and symmetry.
However, the Impact technology combines all these functions into a continuously produced ``monocomponent'' that allows tires to be built with a minimum of splicing. Goodyear's patented ``hot former''-which is a series of computer-controlled, extruder-fed contoured-roll calenders linked by a conveyor belt-pre-assembles up to 12 truck tire casing components, such as the inner liner, the barrier layer, sidewalls, chafers, etc., into what is called a ``composite laminate,'' which then is sent in rolls to the tire building stations.
Goodyear maintains that laminating these various components together while they're still warm achieves several improvements: increased uniformity; greater precision in terms of component thickness and placement; and reduced use or even elimination of processing chemicals designed to retard the vulcanization process until the cure cycle.
Previously Goodyear stated the hot-former aspect alone is expected to reduce the cost of manufacturing tire casing components by about 20 percent and, expressed another way, will reduce labor costs for truck tires by as much as a third.
``Thanks to Impact, we're making the best truck tire in the world,'' Mr. Harrison said. ``That's not a boast, just a simple fact.''
In previous discussions of Impact technology, Goodyear engineers discussed injection-molded bead packages as a future integral part of Impact truck tire design. ``That's not a piece of the puzzle yet,'' Mr. Cohn said, ``but it's a concept we're evaluating.''
The commercial dealers and retreaders attending the event and Danville plant tour generally were impressed with what they saw.
``I think it's going to be an excellent product,'' said Craig G. Wilks, president of Wilks Tire & Battery Service, Albertville, Ala. ``Between the life of that casing and a warranty that backs it up, a lot of people are going to be very interested in this tire.''
Seeing the Impact method in action gave Mr. Wilks added confidence in the G395 LHS. ``To have only one major splice vs. 12, 13 or 14-that means a lot in terms of uniformity and quality,'' he said.
Terry Westhafer-president of Central Tire Corp. in Verona, Va., and a former president of the former American Retreaders Association-also likes what Goodyear is doing in the steer tire field.
``From a retreader's standpoint, Goodyear's tires retread equally well or better than anyone else's,'' Mr. Westhafer said. ``Casing durability is one of my big concerns. Everybody does a good job with a four-year-old casing. The question is, what happens after six or seven years? In that area, Goodyear performs very well.''
Goodyear's warranty and ``Steer Tire Challenge'' also make the G395 LHS immeasurably more attractive to dealers, Mr. Westhafer said. ``This will allow us to go to our customers and say, `Look, you have a no-risk deal here,''' he said.
It should be noted that both Michelin Americas Truck Tires and Continental Tire North America Inc. offer similar seven-year, three-retread guarantees on their premium steer axle and drive tires.
Though Goodyear claims it has a strong position in truck tires worldwide, it hasn't been anywhere near dominant in steer tires, officials admitted at the Danville event. They hope the G395 LHS will change that.
Goodyear's previous major entry in the steer tire category, the G397, had problems first with irregular wear and then with tearing at the edges-though both these problems have since been corrected, Mr. Westhafer said. In any case, Goodyear expects its design software and Impact technology to give it the global edge in steer tires.
``Our engineers got to go around the tire and find out where irregular wear started,'' Mr. Zekoski said. ``Then they could find out why it started.''
Goodyear is expanding the Impact technology worldwide, according to Walt Weller, Goodyear director of marketing-commercial tire systems. An Impact production line is in the startup phase at the Goodyear passenger and light truck tire facility in Lawton, Okla., while the truck tire plant in Topeka, Kan., is also on board for Impact installation by next year.
``Luxembourg has a process like this already running, and there's one targeted for Latin America also,'' Mr. Weller said.