Q Tires Inc. (QTI), a start-up company featuring a handful of tire industry veterans and financial backing from both private and institutional sources, is preparing to launch a tire with on-demand deployable studs for the 2008-09 winter season.
Yep. You read it right. Deployable studs.
Dubbed the Q Celsius, the tire-which features an all-season tread pattern-contains a thin bladder built into the tire below the tread area that inflates on demand.
When the driver determines conditions warrant deploying the studs, he or she activates a pressure-transfer mechanism that transfers pressure from the tire to the bladder. That, in turn, pushes the studs-molded into the recesses in the troughs of the tread-outward in about 1.5 seconds, exposing them in the tread area, according to Q Tires CEO Roy Bromfield.
The studs-120 of them on the model that has passed the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 139-barely show above the tread surface when deployed, Mr. Bromfield said, but since they are located in the tire's void spaces, this is sufficient to provide grip on ice.
When the driver determines conditions no longer warrant studs, he/she then deflates the bladder, allowing the studs to retract to their original position, Mr. Bromfield said.
The air is vented to the outside, which means drivers will have to monitor their tires' pressures. In its literature, Q Tires states a driver could use the system 20 to 30 times before having to worry about topping off the tires.
Greenville, S.C.-based QTI is planning to ``assemble'' the tires at a purpose-built $10 million plant in Qingdao, China.
Workers at the 77,500-sq.-ft. plant will take treadless tire cores built by Qingdao Huanghai Group Co. Ltd.-also known as Yellow Sea Tire-and add the bladder/tread package.
QTI secured Department of Transportation identity codes in 2007 for both the Qingdao plant and the firm's U.S. technical center in Greenville.
QTI intends to market the Q Celsius as a premium all-season tire with ``studs on cue'' capability, Mr. Bromfield said.
With the hardware included, the Celsius likely will sell for a 30-percent price premium over comparable all-season radials, he noted, saying Q Tires will market the product on its safety and economy, since car owners in heavy snow regions won't have to own two sets of tires any more.
Dealers who opt to sell the product-QTI intends to target independent dealers directly-will have to budget the extra time necessary to install the radio frequency-based sending unit in the customer's car interior and align the tire properly on the rim with the pressure-transfer device, which is integrated into the valve stem. There's a physical connection between the tire and the valve stem, he noted.
Having the pressure-transfer mechanism in the valve stem will mean drivers whose vehicles have direct tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) that use valve-stem-based units would have to accept having their TPMS de-activitated.
Part of Q Tires' strategy prior to launching the product has been to lobby states with traditionally high snow tire usage to exempt the Celsius from their studded tire restrictions. So far Oregon and Nevada have passed such bills.
The idea for the product goes back to the early 1990s and a rural Iowa road where company founder Michael O'Brien struggled to put snow chains on his car. Patent applications for his idea date to 1999.
Tire dealers probably will remember Mr. Bromfield. He had a 21-year career with Michelin North America Inc., including stints as vice president of North American marketing and sales and as CEO of Michelin's Tire Centers (TCI) subsidiary.
He left TCI at the end of 2004 and set up his own company, New Bridge Consulting Inc. in Greenville.
Other QTI executives include: Rich W. Priday, a board member who was senior executive vice president with Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc.; Dong Lee, director of tire engineering and design, who joined QTI after working with Hankook Tire Co. Inc. in that firm's research centers in South Korea and Akron; and Jack Bendure, vice president of operations, who brings 30 years of industry experience with a number of industrial rubber companies.
Founded in 2005, QTI has raised about $8 million in capital and is seeking about $10 million more prior to launch, Mr. Bromfield said.
Included in the firm's financial backing is a $200,000 grant from SC-Launch!, a collaboration between SCRA (South Carolina Research Authority) and South Carolina's research universities.