HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.There's no such thing as a perfect tirebut most tires are good.
That's the take on the tire industry by Eugene A. Petersen, tire program manager of Consumer Reports magazine's Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn.
And some tires are very good indeed, Mr. Petersen told the audience at the 30th annual Clemson University Tire Industry Conference.
'Who makes the best tire?' is a popular media question, and it's not that easy to answer, he said. But with its annual comparison tests, Consumer Reports (CR) tries its best to answer that question.
CR has tested roughly 50 to 80 tire models annually since 1992, representing about 25 brands, according to Mr. Petersen. The publication lists 173 tire models on its website, www.ConsumerReports.org.
Typically, the tested tires are flagship replacement models that are sold nationally.
This year, we're testing SUV and pickup tires, Mr. Petersen said. Next year we'll concentrate on family, performance and winter tiresespecially performance winter tires that come in sizes that fit performance cars.
CR generally tests for safety-related characteristics in tires, according to Mr. Petersenbraking, handling, hydroplaning resistance, winter grip and treadwear. A tire that wears out quickly won't have all-weather grip.
Its test priorities veer somewhat from the priorities of consumers, Mr. Petersen said. People shopping for tires value availability, price, tread life and performance above all.
Performance is a given, he noted. Some consumers don't understand that performance can vary model to model.
Whereas in the past original equipment tires were chosen primarily on price, today they drive all high-technology improvements in tires, he said.
New sizes are always being introduced, and this presents something of a problem. As tire sizes proliferate, availability on the replacement level becomes an issue.
Of all the qualities auto makers seek in OE tires, rolling resistance has by far the highest priority, according to Mr. Petersen. There is no easier way for a car maker to improve fuel economy than reduce rolling resistance.
CR ranks tire brands based on weighted-average overall testing scores, with a minimum sample of four tires per brand, Mr. Petersen said. Though some brands perform better on average than others, there is no tire maker that CR considers excellent across the board.
To be 'excellent,' you need to score 80 or above, he said. Michelin and Continental, the highest-ranked models, both get 68.
Michelin Tire North America Inc. places twice as many tire models in CR's Top Five categories as any other brand, with 16, he said, and is the only company that places in the Top Five in every CR category.
But Bridgestone Americas, Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C., Goodyear, Nokian Tires and Pirelli Tire North America are in a five-way tie for second, with eight each in the Top Five categories, he said.
This shows how competitive tire makers are.
CR editors recommend tires to consumers based on testing results, and Michelin has the highest number of recommended models with 10, Mr. Petersen said.
Michelin distinguishes itself from other companies with its treadwear performance, he said. They seem to be in a league by themselves. However, the company's premium pricing is a drawback, he added.
Based on its testing, CR takes the DNA of every major tire manufacturer, according to Mr. Petersen. Here are its profiles of each brand:
c Continental, General: Continental Tire boasts reasonable prices, impressive grip and handling, and good valueespecially in the General brand, according to Mr. Petersen. But there also are some problems with uneven treadwear on Conti's UHP tires, some aging product lines because of long product cycles, and supply shortages. The biggest problem with these tires is trying to get them, he said.
c Goodyear: Goodyear has competitive models overall, and some of them ace CR's tests, Mr. Petersen said, but the Akron-based tire maker's product cycles are often out of whack with CR's testing cycles. That's our loss, he added.
c Nokian: Nokian Tyres is the master of winter grip, and its all-weather tires are attractive to tire buyers who want a winter tire for all-year use, he said, but Nokian is a regional player, and its prices are prohibitive for some consumers.
c Pirelli: Pirelli-brand tires are excellent especially in the high-performance field, with superb handling and grip in both wet and dry conditions, according to Mr. Petersen. But treadwear performance has been problematic, he noted, as has winter traction in some all-season models and some truck tires also haven't performed up to expectations. New models should address these problems, he added.
c Yokohama: Yokohama-brand tires are designed to perform well on both dry and wet roads, and some of its focused products do well in CR tests, according to Mr. Petersen. But truck tire performance has been uneven, he said, as has winter traction for Yokohama's all-season radials.
c Hankook: The Hankook brand boasts balanced performance within its favored categories, and is strong in truck tires but only about average in the all-season category, Mr. Petersen said. He also complained about Hankook's cryptic model names, though he added, The same can be said of other tire companies.
c Cooper: Cooper (Tire & Rubber Co.) has been on a roll in recent years with the Cooper Zeon RS3-A, the Discoverer CTS and the Discoverer A/T3, Mr. Petersen said. The company is strong in all-season performance but the Zeon RS3-S is only so-so among summer models.
c Bridgestone, Firestone: Bridgestone Americas has impressive resources, he said, and is a real winner in the winter tire market with the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70 and DM-V1. However, its all-season tire performance has been mediocre.
Bridgestone is the Dallas Cowboys of tire companies, he said. On paper it's one of the best tire makersmodern, energy-efficient, with extremely talented peoplebut it's more of a .500 club. Its metric of manufacturing tires is not well-aligned with our test metric.
CR will continue to emphasize core safety performance characteristics in its testing, according to Mr. Petersen. But consumers can be assured that most tires provide at least a minimum level of good performance.
For most consumers, the perfect tire is a well-maintained product, and one that suits their level of performance priorities, he said.