MONTREAL (March 15, 2004) — Michelin North America Inc.'s marketing people couldn't have timed the incident better if they had choreographed it: A busload of journalists, heading to a test track for a demonstration of Michelin's new winter tire, witnessed a Jeep Cherokee ahead suddenly lose control on the snow-covered road.
It fishtailed several times before careening off the side of the road into a snowy embankment.
Fortunately no one was injured. But the accident dramatically enhanced Michelin's media introduction of its X-Ice passenger and Latitude X-Ice light truck tires designed to improve braking, traction and handling in such snowy and icy conditions.
The X-Ice, replacing Michelin's Alpin line of mass-market winter tires, features new rubber compounding and siping technologies along with a V-shaped tread design. The X-Ice tires, which will be available in the fall, surpassed the Alpin in performance, wear rate and noise reduction in independent testing, according to Michelin.
With a price range of $63.59 to $185.11, Q-speed rated (99 mph) X-Ice is positioned to compete with the Bridgestone WS50 and Goodyear Ultragrip 5.
The Latitude X-Ice, with a price range of $143.88 to $177.99, will go up against the Bridgestone Dueler DMZ. Michelin will continue to offer the Pilot Alpin H- and V-speed rated tires, which are undergoing improvements over the next two years, for the performance market.
The X-Ice is the first application of Michelin's Adaptive Progressive Stiffness (APS) technology. APS uses advanced silica-generation rubber that allows the tread rubber compound to soften progressively at the road's surface while remaining rigid near the belt.
That provides traction and flexibility where the tread surface comes in contact with the road, according to Michelin.
The tread pattern features:
* Z-shaped sipes for braking and traction;
* Longitudinal zigzag grooves for deep-snow traction;
* Square contact patches for extra traction and control on ice;
* Michelin's new Stress Equilibrium Casing for extended and even wear; and
* Directional and V-shaped tread pattern for hydroplaning resistance.
Michelin will offer the X-Ice in 39 sizes ranging from 13- to 17-inch rim diameters for passenger cars and minivans. The Latitude X-Ice will be offered in 10 sizes ranging from 15- to 16-inch rim diameters for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles.
More sizes will be released in 2005. While neither line offers a mileage warranty, Michelin anticipates a wear life of at least three winters.
The Feb. 13 debut of the X-Ice tire in Montreal was part of a global launch aimed at three key markets—Canada/Northern U.S., Scandinavia and Japan/China. Most of the tires will be built in Japan with four sizes produced in France.
The X-Ice line will be available to all of Michelin's distribution outlets, which will begin placing orders April 1 for delivery in the third quarter. The Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker said there will be “early bird” ordering incentives, and the X-Ice will be supported with a television commercial, radio voice-overs for dealers and Web site marketing.
Michelin said it wants to regain its leadership in the winter tire market.
“We'd like to do a better job in the winter tire category,” said Ronald Margadonna, technical marketing manager for Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST), noting the company didn't focus as much as it should have on marketing the Alpin line.
The Montreal launch was aimed at attracting the attention of the large Canadian winter tire market, particularly Quebec and the Maritime provinces, along with the northwestern U.S. The tire maker emphasized the advantage of winter tires over all-season tires in those climates, and recent sales figures seem to corroborate it.
Winter tire sales have been increasing an average 6 percent annually in Canada, where winter tires accounted for 22 percent, or 4.4 million units, of the total small tires sold in 2003, according to Michelin. Meanwhile, the U.S. market is rather flat, with winter tires representing only 1.5 percent, or 3 million units, of total tires sold. However Michelin said there is growth in studless light truck and performance winter tires in the U.S.
Consumers buy winter tires, according to a Michelin spokesman, to obtain a sense of security with maximum traction and increased handling and/or to rectify a bad experience with all-season tires.
As for four-wheel drive vehicle owners, the X-Ice “gives the ultimate driving confidence. They may have a sense of security with all-season tires but all-season tires, even with four-wheel drive, is not good enough,” Mr. Margadonna said.