Riding on the momentum from last year's Assurance line success, Goodyear is hoping to top that product launch with a new tire technology aimed at drawing light truck and sport-utility vehicle owners to Goodyear dealers.
Billed as ``bigger than the Assurance launch'' by North American Tire President Jon Rich, Goodyear is introducing new Wrangler and Fortera product lines equipped with ``SilentArmor'' technology designed to impart toughness and durability combined with comfort and a quiet ride. Goodyear has determined that those features and benefits are a combination pickup and SUV drivers desire.
Goodyear unveiled the technology and new tire lines to journalists Jan. 27 in Dallas a few days before its annual dealer conference, held in Grapevine, Texas. On Jan. 28, Goodyear hosted a ride-and-drive event for journalists to test drive the new tires at its San Angelo, Texas, proving grounds.
The Wrangler tire initially will be available to consumers in May with 24 sizes in 15- to 17-inch rim diameters in T and R speed ratings. The Fortera tire will be available initially in March with 25 sizes in 15- to 20-inch rim in T and H speed ratings. Both tires will be manufactured at Goodyear's plants in Fayetteville, N.C., Tyler, Texas, Napanee, Ontario, and Gadsden, Ala.
``The Fortera featuring SilentArmor technology is a perfect blend of utility, strength and style,'' said Todd Hershberger, Goodyear marketing manager for light truck tires. ``SUV owners choose an SUV over a passenger car because the SUV gives them an extra edge in versatility. This new tire mirrors that kind of versatility.''
The new Wrangler is a tire that delivers the capability to drive on any terrain, Mr. Hershberger added, yet like the new Fortera, delivers comfort and quietness.
Goodyear has positioned the Fortera and Wrangler with Silent-Armor as premium products in the on-highway and on-/off-highway segments, respectively. The tire maker said the on-/off-road truck tire segment grew 15.7 percent in 2003 compared with 2002 figures, and it appears this trend is not slowing down based on projections from the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
The SilentArmor Fortera will replace the Fortera HL in all but three sizes, and the new Wrangler will replace the Wrangler AT/S-but only in overlapping sizes, Mr. Hershberger said. Compared with the Fortera HL, fewer Wrangler AT/S sizes will be discontinued because of that tire line's original equipment fitments, he said.
One of SilentArmor's main features is the ``armor zone,'' which comprises two high-tensile steel belts and a layer made with Kevlar, a tough but lightweight aramid fiber produced by DuPont Co. Mr. Rich-speaking of the challenge he gave to the tire maker's engineers to design a product that could surpass Assurance in sales-lauded DuPont's Kevlar product as a major component of SilentArmor.
``One of the things that excites me is the collaboration we had with DuPont on this project,'' Mr. Rich said. ``We partnered with DuPont to leverage their knowledge and go farther than we could on our own.''
The armor zone also includes Goodyear's Durawall rubber compound, which reinforces the sidewall to help resist punctures and cuts. It features the Rim Guard design to protect expensive wheels from accidental curb damage. In the Fortera, Goodyear created a super-absorbent layer between the tread and the belts to provide 20-percent more comfort than other SUV tires, claimed David Griffin, a development engineer for the Fortera.
Mr. Griffin said Goodyear engineers wanted to keep the traction of the current Fortera HL in the newer model but at the same time make it quieter.
Goodyear achieved that goal, he explained, by taking smooth Fortera HL tires and carving feature by feature into the tread elements. They then studied noise patterns and made about 900 changes in the Fortera HL's tread pattern, he said.
The result is a quieter Fortera that still incorporates the curvilinear grooves and rubber compound found in the Fortera HL, according to Mr. Griffin.
The Wrangler with SilentArmor was developed with enhanced resistance to rock drilling in the tread grooves and an open tread pattern with interlocking blocks for road traction, according to Walt Allen, product technology engineer. Two Kevlar layers are located in both the tread and shoulder regions.
Other features of the new Wrangler include a new silica rubber formula to help resist chip chunking and a computer-optimized tread block with sipe geometry that Mr. Allen claimed outperformed the competition in dry handling. The silica compound provides snow traction, qualifying the tire for M+S certification.
As with Assurance, Goodyear administered consumer response tests for the Fortera and Wrangler SilentArmor tires and received the strongest scores in the history of those tests, Mr. Hershberger said. These product tests, administered as market research by Goodyear in late 2003, surveyed thousands of pickup and SUV owners, according to Jeanne Sherman, director of new products for North America. She said the survey sample was a mix of both Goodyear-brand and non-Goodyear brand buyers.
For the Fortera, 62 percent of SUV owners surveyed said they were highly likely to buy Fortera tires with SilentArmor technology. Seventy percent of luxury SUV owners said they were highly likely to definitely purchase the tires while 20 percent of luxury SUV owners said they would definitely purchase the new Fortera.
Goodyear said the new Wrangler has garnered a strong appeal with consumers as well, with 70 percent of pickup truck owners saying they were highly likely to purchase Wranglers with SilentArmor, and 22 percent indicating they would definitely purchase, according to Mr. Hershberger.
When asked if the Wrangler and Fortera SilentArmor tires will be carried exclusively by independent dealers, Larry Mason, president of consumer tires, North America, said the products will be rolled out based on customer need and in a manner similar to the Assurance launch.
Assurance debuted in February 2004 to independent dealers, and Sears Auto Centers began selling limited sizes of Assurance in November.
Regarding OE fitments for the SilentArmor tires, Mr. Hershberger said there weren't any that the company could discuss right now, but ``we'll see what happens in the future.''
He added that there were no plans to use SilentArmor technology in other Goodyear tire lines at this point.
``We're always looking at technology to see where it applies,'' he said. ``We haven't explored putting (SilentArmor) on other lines at this point.''
The Wrangler comes with a 50,000-mile limited treadlife warranty and UTQG ratings of A/B for traction and temperature and 520 for treadwear. The Fortera comes with a 70,000-mile limited treadlife warranty and UTQG ratings of 720 for treadwear and A/B traction and temperature ratings in T-rated sizes.
The Fortera H-rated sizes have a 620 UTQG treadwear rating and A/A traction and temperature ratings. Both tires come with a 30-day no obligation trial period.