ENSENADA, MexicoThe BFGoodrich brand and the Baja 500/1,000 are inextricably linked.
BFG has been using the grueling 1,000-mile run through the hills, valleys, goat trails and arrayos of Mexico's Baja peninsula to test its light truck tires since the mid-1970sso it was a proverbial no brainer for BFG to bring dozens of journalists to Baja recently for the launch of its newest all-terrain tire, the All-Terrain T/A KO2.
BFGoodrich, under the wing of Michelin North America Inc. since 1990, calls the KO2 its toughest all-terrain tireever. BFG execs are basing their bravura on what they claim is industry-leading sidewall durability coupled with increased treadlife and traction.
The new linethe successor to the decade-old T/A KO designwill hit dealers' showrooms this November in a dozen sizes. They will be followed in 2015 by 13 more sizes in the spring and 31 by fall, the company disclosed at a ride-and-drive event in Mexico that retraced portions of the course used in the annual Baja 500 and 1,000 off--road races.
Using technology from BFG's series of competition-tested off-road tires, including the Baja T/A KR2used by nine of the top 10 finishers in the 2014 Tecate SCORE Baja 500the tire maker increased the integrity of the sidewall to improve its resistance to splitting, which Dan Newsome, BFG's country marketing manager for light truck tires, said is responsible for 84 percent of all all-terrain tire failures.
Bundled together as CoreGard technology, the development combines new sidewall and tread compounds with a slightly reinforced upper sidewall/belt-edge to produce a tire that the company claims is 20-percent stronger than the KOK = key benefit; O = off-roadas well as outperforming major competitors' products in the all-terrain product category.
BFG is rolling out the KO2 38 years after it launched what it contends was the industry's first radial all-terrain tire, the Radial All-Terrain T/A. Since then, BFG-shod racers have notched 80 class wins at the Baja 500, including 30 overall victories.
Last year BFG invited a handful of racers from other disciplinesmotocross, rallyes, etc.to run the pre-production versions of the KO2 on open-wheel buggies in the Baja 500 as a final pre-launch test and durability promotion. None of the cars running on the KO2 suffered a tire failure during the event, BFG said.
To promote the launch of the new tire, BFG will use traditional advertising and a range of social media efforts, all tied together with the message: BFG All/Terrain KO2 takes on... any number of challenges, leading up to the ultimate challengePlayground Earth.
One specific challenge BFG is highlighting on social media is KO2 takes on gravity. It shows a set of mounted tires being dropped from an airplane at 10,000 feet and then one retrieved tire being mounted to a stranded Jeep, which then drives away.
To generate prelaunch buzz for the tire, BFGoodrich invited a few dozen journalists to Baja in early September to join BFG executives and associates and Baja race veterans to put the tires through their paces. Invitees ran Subaru-powered open-wheel buggies and Ford F-150 Raptors through roughly 300 miles of the trails, tracks and roads that make up the annual Baja 500 and 1,000 off-road races up and down the Baja peninsula.
The trek took the groups through terrain that ranged from low first-gear rock crawling to flat-out top-gear dust-cloud-generating blasts through desert dotted periodically with cacti and low scrub brush.
The groups ran in convoys of six carsexperienced Baja vets in the lead and tailto ensure safety. The oft-repeated mantra was: Don't drive through what you can't see through. Dust clouds and scrub brush can have crunchy centers.
In developing a tire with sufficient improvements to warrant making it a second-generation iteration, BFG took into account customer feedback on what performance aspects needed upgrading, Mr. Newsome told Tire Business at an overnight stop at Mike's Sky Ranch, a bare-bones but hospitable inn nestled into the Baja hinterlands. (Latitude 31.06 north; Longitude 115.38 west).
Basically, customers told us they needed three things, Mr. Newsome said. ...a tougher tire, more treadlife over a wide range of surfaces and more traction.
Responding to that, BFG built in a lot of toughness, Mr. Newsome said.
Development of the tire began in 2010, with testing in Baja with Wide Open Excursions, an adventure excursion company that maintains buggies in Baja and Reno, Nev.
Among the improvements BFG claims for the KO2 over the KO are:
c Double the treadlife on gravel roads and 15-percent longer on asphalt;
c 10-percent greater traction in the mud, thanks in part to the use of a mud-clearing cleat design borrowed from farm tires; and
c 19-percent greater traction in the snow, the latter allowing BFG to mark the tire with the Rubber Manufacturer Association's Mountain Snowflake symbol, indicating that it exceeds the industry's severe snow traction requirements.
The additional rubber in the sidewall adds about a pound of weight to the tire, depending on size, according to John Jewell, one of the engineers who helped design the KO2. This results in a slight rolling resistance penalty.
BFG lists a manufacturers' suggested retail price starting at $222, depending on size, which ranges from LT225/75R16 to LT275/55R20. The new tire is being produced at BFG plants in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Ft. Wayne, Ind.
BFGoodrich has discovered over time there are two distinct customer types for the KO-type all-terrain tires, according to Mr. Newsome: truck guysalso dubbed adrenaline junkies and adventure seekers who own light trucks/SUVs for the express purpose of off-roading at least part of the timeand small business owners who use their trucks on construction sites, oil fields, ranches, farms and other demanding outdoor workplaces.
The snow traction rating is of special importance to the latter demographic, Mr. Newsome said, as well as for the Canadian market where the rating carries increasing legal significance in some provinces.
The tire actually launched in Canada in early October to help dealers capture the early winter tire demand.
To reach this reporter: [email protected] crain.com; 330-86506145.