Put a sock on it.
That's the advice a Norwegian research company is giving motorists who want a temporary traction device for getting around in snowy or icy conditions.
The sock referred to is a polyester fiber-based bag designed to fit over a tire to help inpart traction in slippery conditions. At least, that's the contention of AutoSock A.S., the Norwegian company promoting the invention.
In case the idea sounds far-fetched, consider this: European car makers Mercedes-Benz A.G., Alfa-Romeo S.p.A., Peugeot S.A., Volkswagen A.G., BMW A.G., and the European arm of Toyota Motor Corp. have approved it for use on their vehicles.
In trying to explain the premise, AutoSock CEO Lars Saeboe refers to the past, when Norwegian grandmothers used to put wool socks over their boots on icy days to improve traction.
The AutoSock borrows this idea and improves on it, Mr. Saeboe said.
In the U.S., AutoSock is looking at various chains of distribution, including the independent tire dealership channel, starting with the snow belt, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions, according to Garry Rainey, the U.S. contact for AutoSock. The company already has firm commitments from distributors in Colorado and the St. Louis area but is still looking for distributors elsewhere, Mr. Rainey said.
It's also looking into individual states' Department of Transportation regulations governing the use of snow chains-especially in those states with mountain passes. AutoSock does not promote the device as a snow chain but rather as an alternative to snow chains for temporary mobility in difficult winter conditions.
AutoSock originally was the idea of Bard Lotveit, a Norwegian retreader who thought there had to be a simpler, more user-friendly solution to the snow/ice traction dilemma.
The principle of the AutoSock is to deliver a layer of dry surface area. This is achieved by the fiber weave, which produces a pattern of high and low spots that allow water absorption, Mr. Saeboe explained. In addition, as the surface of the AutoSock wears, the fiber ``hairs'' that result from the fabric being torn actually aid in traction.
On snow, Mr. Saeboe said, the AutoSock also helps traction by keeping the tire from sinking into the snow, which creates traction problems.
The device itself essentially is a cloth bag with one open side designed to fit over a tire snugly. The opening is ringed with elastic that allows the user to fit it over the tire.
Fitting the AutoSock is relatively simple and quick. The user slips the AutoSock over the tire as completely as he/she can, then moves the car slightly to allow fitting the remainder over the tire. Once the AutoSock is completely around the tire, driving will center it automatically. The company recommends not driving over 35 mph with the device in place.
The AutoSock has a limited lifespan, Mr. Saeboe said. Drive it on dry pavement and it will disintegrate rather quickly, he acknowledged.
AutoSock claims the product has a 90-percent customer approval rating, appealing primarily to consumers with middle-to-higher income and education and an above-average interest in cars, Mr. Rainey said. It is expected to retail in the range of $79 to $99, with a profit margin of 40 to 60 percent for retailers, he said.