While the cars are the stars at any big car show-like the recent North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit-a glance at the rubber holding up the concepts and launches can provide valuable insight as to the tire makers' future product programs.
``Working with original equipment manufacturers on these projects puts us on the ground floor when they're looking at different design concepts,'' said Kevin Kramer, Goodyear's vice president, original equipment tires.
``Many times, we've either received new business or morphed a design into an honest-to-goodness production tire,'' he said, citing the example of the Aquatred being a further development of a concept tire for an early 1980s General Motors Corp. concept car.
Michelin North America (MNA) Inc. sees its presence on vehicles at the major car shows as a reflection of the coupling of its tire designers' imaginations with sound engineering practices.
``Designing concept vehicle tires is definitely both,'' said Steve Lash, manager of concept development and innovation for MNA.
``Michelin sees the creation of a concept tire as bit of a right brain challenge paired with a left brain solution,'' Mr. Lash said. ``We need to be creative and innovative, but we also need to be technically sound. A tire is a very complex system that can involve more than 1,000 individual elements.''
At the NAIAS-the continent's largest such gathering, colloquially known as the ``Detroit Auto Show''-auto makers showcased vehicles both large and small. That's a fact reflected in the media's choices for 2004 North American Car and Truck of the Year: the hybrid-powered Toyota Prius and the Ford F150 pickup.
Among the revelations at the show involving tires:
* Michelin got two more approvals for its Pax run-flat tire/wheel system-from Honda North America Inc. and Nissan North America Inc., for as-yet unidentified 2005 model year vehicles. Nissan also turned heads with its six-passenger Actic concept vehicle, fitted with motorcycle tire-profile Pax tires that appear to wrap completely around the wheel.
* Pirelli Tire North America Inc. and Michelin/BF Goodrich crowed about gaining fitments on the redesigned 2005 Mustang GT, with their Pirelli P Zero Nero and BFGoodrich g-Force T/AKDW tires, respectively.
* Goodyear grabbed its share of the spotlight with concept tires on three of the show's largest concept vehicles-Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.'s FTX full-size pickup, the Hummer-sized Jeep Rescue, and the brutish-looking Ford Bronco. The company's run-flat tires will outfit the new 2004 Cadillac CTS-V high-performance luxury sedan as well as the redesigned 2005 Chevrolet Corvette.