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Tire Magic in Motown

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DETROIT—Goodyear, Bridgestone Corp., Group Michelin, Continental A.G. and Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. all have concept tires on display this week at the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where the world's vehicle makers debuted more than two dozen concept cars and trucks.

Michelin, the only tire company exhibiting at the annual show, was the most active tire company, with concept and production tires on several concept vehicles, including the Chevrolet Volt, the car maker's electric-powered concept that uses a 1-liter, 3-cylinder internal combustion engine to power a generator that keeps the batteries charged.

Chevrolet uses low rolling resistance Michelin Green-X radials, size 195/55R21, on the Volt.

Other vehicles on Michelin concept tires include:

* Nissan Bevel, a crossover of sorts, combining the practicality of a pickup and the utility of a passenger car into a vehicle aimed at men aged 45 to 60 who carry lots of “stuff” but not many passengers. It wore Michelin tires, size 245/55R20;

* Lincoln MKR, a four-door coupe based on the Ford Mustang chassis, powered by a 415-hp, twin-turbo V6 running on E85 ethanol, using Michelin concept tires, size 265/35ZR21 front and 285/35ZR21 rear, with the Lincoln logo cut into the tread pattern; and

* Ford Airstream, a concept crossover vehicle that pays homage to the Airstream travel trailers. It's powered by a hydrogen fuel cell that generates electricity that goes straight into a lithium ion battery pack and rides on 245/40R22 Michelin concepts.

Goodyear, the leading original equipment supplier to U.S. car makers, had concept tires on a number of cars, including:

* Ford Interceptor, a four-door “muscle” car based on the Mustang platform and powered by a 5-liter V8 running on E85 ethanol, with Goodyear concept tires in size 245/40R22;

* Chrysler Nassau, a coupe-styled, four-passenger, four-door hatchback luxury sedan, fitted with P245/45R22 concept tires; and

* Jeep Trailhawk, a four-door hatchback design that combines the Jeep's core off-road features with the styling of an on-road open-air concept vehicle. It debuted on Goodyear directional concept tires, size 305/45R22, with a red sidewall accent stripe that picks up the red brake calipers seen through the five-spoke alloy wheels.

“Auto shows are an opportunity to prove that tires can be fashionable, too,” said Paul Maxwell, a principal designer for Goodyear. “While they provide functional capabilities such as carrying the vehicle load, gripping ability in all kinds of weather and traction for starting and stopping, tires actually can complement the vehicle's appearance. Concept tire development is important because it allows us to contribute to automotive design trends that soon may be coming down the road.”

Mr. Maxwell added, “Communication between the auto maker and tire maker is paramount to keeping image and messages consistent through design.”

Bridgestone showed a concept ultra-high-performance PotenzaT on the Lexus LF-A, a two-seat sports car powered by a 500-hp V10 engine. Lexus, a division of Toyoto Motor Corp., claims the LF-A would be capable of 200 mph. The tire fitments are 265/35R20 front and 305/30R20 rear.

The concept tire represents a dynamic new expression of the Potenza brand, which is recognized for performance, sporty looks and race-inspired technologies, according to the tire maker, an original equipment tire supplier for several Lexus luxury models.

Toyo's concept was on Mazda's Ryuga—the name means “graceful flow”—a four-passenger, luxury/sports coupe concept that features gull-wing doors and a shape inspired by nature. The Proxes 245/55R21 radials have a flowing tread pattern inspired by the car's shape; the wheel spokes—different on the left and right sides—are slightly twisted as if they´re delivering torque.

Volkswagen A.G.'s four-passenger compact sport-utility Tiguan sported Continental concept tires, size 275/45R19, built with a layer of orange rubber in the tread area—matching the Tiguan's body paint—a design element that makes the black tread elements pop out when seen head on and creates an orange sidewall stripe when viewed from the side.

The all-wheel-drive Tiguan—to debut in about a year—features a 140-hp, 2-liter four-cylinder diesel as the base engine and a 200-hp supercharged 2-liter and 280-hp, 3.6-liter V6 gasoline engines.

For more coverage of the Detroit auto show, visit our sister publication, AutoWeek.

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