Goodyear's 21st Century Tire Technology
By: Mike Magda, Editor Posted: 04-02-06 22:11 PT
© 2006

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Although Goodyear is marketing its new Fortera featuring TripleTred Technology to SUVs, pickup owners who live in inclement-weather areas should take a close look at this new tire. Designed to be an all-weather replacement tire, it features three distinct tread zones and rubber compounds to work on wet, icy and dry road surfaces.

The unique tread design should look great on crew cab trucks, especially 2-wheel-drive and luxury trim models. The Goodyear Wrangler, which was upgraded last year, is a more aggressive choice for the off-road look and for work trucks. Besides, many feel crew cab pickups are just SUVs with a bed. The Fortera TripleTred’s load ratings and sizes should adapt to most half-ton crew cabs without a problem.

Safety and security will be the prime motivation behind cross shopping the Fortera TripleTred. Another Fortera tire released last year, one with Silent Armor technology, is designed for a softer, quieter ride on SUVs and pickups. It has a more traditional-looking tread but is not intended for any heavy-duty or off-road use.

I drove a variety of SUVs shod with TripleTred tires at Goodyear’s 82-acre test center in Akron, Ohio. The most revealing maneuver was through an autocross course on a wet blacktop. I also drove identical vehicles sporting competitive tires. The course was tight enough that understeer was more prevelant than kicking out the rear end. Hitting the turns was sure-footed with both tire brands. To be honest, I became more familiar with the course with each run and speeds improved with every try. Therefore it was difficult to identify superior traits on back-to-back runs. The big difference that was very noticeable for me was driving off the wet course in a turn and on to dry pavement. There I found the Goodyear tire to be more effective than the competition in gripping the road. The triple-design approach worked well in transition situations, which could be more useful in Southern California where large puddles remain on the freeway after a rain shower.

The manufacturing complexities needed to build a tire with three distinct compounds demonstrate just how far tire technology has accelerated in recent years. For instance, in the water zone there is a new silica-based compound while the ice zone has polymers to enhance low-temperature flexibility and is spiced with volcanic sand and sharp fiberglass particles to grab the ice. The dry zone on the outside has similar properties used in race tires.

The tread design has an interesting flair that looks comfortable on a large vehicle. It doesn’t appear to be out of place as could other directional tires designed for sports cars. Nomenclature such as “traction fingers” and “sipe blades” means little to the average tire consumer, but every little notch and slit is there for a reason. During a visit to the 700,000 square-foot Goodyear tech center, I witnessed some of the steps in developing a new tire.

When the designers come up with a marketable and appealing tread pattern they feel meets the engineers’ goals and objectives, the tire is put through a computer modeling program. This proprietary software was in cooperation with Sandia National Laboratory, which is better known from designing military weapons. But some of the knowledge gained in modeling weapons can also be applied to commercial needs such as tires. Engineers can test tire designs for traction, mileage, cornering and even noise before turning out samples that are tested at the track or at other engineering stations. The most punishing test appeared to be a rig that spun the tire fast, put a load on a surface and then adjusted the camber through a wide range of settings. This test just smoked the shoulders and sidwalls as engineers look for weak points while a tire is pushed through a corner.

The future of tires came up during lunch with Goodyear officials. While tire technology continues to improve with every new model, I wondered about the next major revolution. Where was the non-pneumatic tire? I don’t mean run-flats that get you safely to a garage down the road. Is the Michelin Tweel, an odd-looking combination of tire and wheel, the answer? What about foam-filled or sponge tires? I always got the standard answer from any engineer: “We’re looking at all possibilities.”

The immediate future will see tires communicating more with computers. Vehicles are more complex and computers run most of the systems. These computers want to know what’s going on with the tire. Remember the great quote from Reeves Callaway? “Every component in a car is in place to make the tires work better.” Heat and tire-pressure sensors will become more prevalent to help advanced suspension systems react to road conditions and vehicle dynamics. Even those counting tires want more electronics. Major tire retailers want RF identification tags in tires for accurate inventory. The military is also eager for such a system. Apparently they lose thousands of tires each year.

As with any technological advancement, cost is a factor. For now it’s reassuring that there are choices for the truck owner, whether the priority is traction, ride quality or ruggedness.

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