LAURENS, S.C. — Are consumers working with only half a deck, so to speak, when it comes to choosing which tires to buy?
It's no secret that tires exhibit widely varying degrees of performance when new, but how do the same tires perform when half-worn, both compared with themselves when new and with competitors' products, new and used?
That's the crux of a business and technology position Group Michelin has been advocating the past few years.
Now Michelin North America Inc. is taking up the mantle as well under the umbrella #thetruthaboutworntires, a campaign that the tire maker hopes will "start a dialogue" among tire companies to provide consumers with more complete information about how their tires will perform over time.
Consumers today arguably are better informed than ever before about how new tires perform, but how well do those desirable new tire attributes hold up when the tires are 50-percent worn? Seventy-five- percent worn? At or near to the 2/32nd inch minimum legal tread depth in most states and provinces?
Those attributes can change drastically as tires wear, Michelin contends, meaning that consumers make purchase decisions based on factors that become less and less relevant over time. Although safety may be subjective from one driver to another, Michelin said, braking distance — especially wet braking — is recognized by most as the best indicator of safety in the automotive and tire industry.
Most published tire tests show braking performance among new tires is not equal. Michelin's internal testing shows that worn tires can be even more unequal in their braking performances. In some cases, one company's worn tires may even outperform another's new tires.
Such was the case recently when Michelin invited dozens of journalists, bloggers and "influencers" to its Laurens Proving Grounds in rural South Carolina, about 60 miles south of Spartanburg.
During that event, Michelin set up wet braking and wet handling demonstrations, comparing new and worn Michelins against new and worn competitor's tires. The "worn" tires were ones Michelin had buffed to 3/32nd inch; the tire maker opted for buffed tires to ensure full-width tread patterns for more equitable comparisons.
The wet braking test pitted four identically prepared 2018 Toyota Camrys, two with new tires and two with tires worn to 3/32nd inch. The test was a full-force stop from 45 mph.
On average, the new Michelin stopped in 78.4 feet on the wet concrete; the competing brand took 104.5 feet. When worn, the Michelin increased that distance to 87.5 feet, a 12-percent jump, and the competing brand needed 121.2 feet, 16-percent farther.
The test was repeated with Ford F-150s; the Michelin went from 90.5 feet new to 120.3 feet worn (33 percent longer), while the competing brand jumped from 109 feet to 141 (29 percent).
The wet-handling course test — featuring Nissan Jukes — was more subjective, with the assembled drivers experiencing reduced control with the worn tires but with measurably different, and predictable, results.
Michelin has been making noise about worn-tire performance since 2014, since the launch of the Premier A/S with EverGrip technology, which combines a unique rubber compound designed for enhanced wet grip, hidden grooves that emerge as the tire wears down and expanding rain grooves that widen over time.
At that time, then Michelin COO Scott Clark said the Premier A/S tire represented a "significant breakthrough in automotive safety" and a break in the "traditional paradigm" of tire performance over time.