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Executive View: Michelin’s Ralph Beaveridge Delivers Goods on Tires

TN: What would you consider are the main challenges facing truck-tire manufacturers today and how is Michelin responding to those challenges?Beaveridge: The bottom line in today's economic environment...


TN: What would you consider are the main challenges facing truck-tire manufacturers today and how is Michelin responding to those challenges?

Beaveridge: The bottom line in today’s economic environment is that our primary customers, trucking companies and owner/operators, need more miles from their tires and more resistance to irregular wear; everything we can offer and then some because they are facing so much pressure to deliver more efficiently with rates that are not growing. Michelin is responding to the challenge by trying to find ways to stretch the boundaries of what tires are currently able to do.

TN: The new EPA diesel regulations for 2002 and 2007 are expected to affect fuel economy. What is Michelin doing to tackle the fuel efficiency challenge?

Beaveridge: The rolling resistance of a tire is responsible for about 30 per cent of a vehicle’s fuel consumption. So if we can do things to reduce the rolling resistance then we would actually be putting money back in the pockets of our customers.

Each generation of our products has improved on the fuel efficiency of the tire. But the real challenge is to improve the fuel economy without compromising the other features of the tire and Michelin has been able to do this.

TN: The X-One wide base single tire is marketed as a tire that helps solve the conundrum of how to lengthen tread and casing life and improve fuel efficiency at the same time. Can you elaborate on how the tire achieves those ends?

Beaveridge: The design for the X-One is completely different from the design of traditional single tires. You can see that clearly when you stand it up against a traditional single tire.

Even though the section width may be the same, the X-One has a much wider tread area than a traditional single tire and that is primarily due to the Infinicoil, which is basically a wire cable wrapped around the tire casing like a fishing line.

It acts as an envelope so that, as the tire is rotating, rather than having a huge centrifugal force to try to bow the tire out towards the centre of the tread, which would create an irregular footprint, the footprint is kept very flat from shoulder to shoulder. That way you get an even distribution of weight and allow the tire to efficiently wear, track and hold the ground.

At the same time we have incorporated our most fuel-efficient rubber compounding into the tire and, because on a single tire we only have two side walls flexing, we have less heat generated and therefore there is less energy wasted. As soon as we launched the X-One XDA drive tire we knew that if we compared it with the most fuel-efficient drive tire in our lineup at the time, the XDA2, which was also the most fuel efficient tire in the market, we would be able to guarantee a 2.5 per cent improvement in fuel economy.

In Canada, the improvement in fuel economy was significantly better than that because fleets were running mostly XDHTs. One fleet saw a 10.2 per cent improvement in fuel economy after running a few weeks with the X-One XDAs on just the tractor.

TN: I understand, however, that government has concerns about the tire and regulatory restrictions remain in force. Can you elaborate on those concerns and the latest regulatory developments.?

Beaveridge: Traditional single tires, for example those you see on mixers or dump trucks, are apt to inflict pavement damage from twice as much to seven times as much as duals would under the same loads and conditions. But the whole purpose of the new tire technology is to eliminate that factor. Testing we sponsored at Virginia Tech established that in terms of the road substructure (from underneath the pavement down through the gravel and everything that holds that road up) there is no significant difference in damage between the X-One single tire and duals. The concern from the pavement and bridge people from several of the provincial governments, however, was damage to the wearable surface (the about 2.5 centimetres of asphalt on top of the substructure.)

TN: Around this time last year you launched the X-One XDA-HT and the X-One XTE. Are there plans for further expanding this family of tires in the near future?

Beaveridge: Absolutely. We will continue on a North American basis to produce new tread designs as the demand is established. Currently the four major designs are for highway and/or regional applications. Once the tire becomes unrestricted in Canada we will be looking at more designs. Every time we are at a show people from the logging industry or the petrochemical industry come up and ask us when they can get a set for their applications.

TN: Last year, Michelin introduced a directional design with its XZA3 long haul steer that is said to combat the onset of irregular wear and allow for a 20 per cent improvement in service life compared to its predecessor. Can you elaborate on the specifics of the tire’s design and construction that is helping Michelin achieve that improvement in service life?

Beaveridge: Twenty per cent is a huge leap forward for steer tires yet it is conservative compared to many of the results we achieved through the testing phase (running in many of the large fleets in North America).

One of the things our engineers looked at when designing this generation of tires is the issue with tires coming out of service. They looked through scrap tire piles (and studied thousands of tires) and found that 76 per cent of the tires were removed prematurely due to irregular wear. That’s phenomenal. The bottom line was we needed to find something that reduced irregular wear. Irregular wear typically comes from mechanical forces but we had to find ways to better resist it.

We’ve been able to cut in half the frequency of irregular wear in the XZA3 versus our previous tires. Part of how we achieved that was a redesign of the siping on our tires. A steer tire is typically a rib tire but along the edges of the ribs we have sipes, small cuts that allow the tire to maintain traction and steerability.

The cuts are about 4 mm apart on average. When the cuts are perpendicular to the casing itself, which is the way we and most of our competitors have always made tires, as the little section of rubber between the two sipes rotates and comes out of contact with the surface of the ground, you get an extra bit of friction that can cause, on a microscopic level, the onset of more rapid wear.

And that will evolve into irregular wear. The bottom line is we’ve been able to angle the sipes now so that as they come out of contact, they are coming out of contact in one shot so that we don’t have the snap back effect that creates irregular wear.

TN: How are fleets responding to the launch of your eTire tire monitoring system?

Beaveridge: It was launched in the U.S. late last year and we haven’t officially launched it here yet but we’ve already had lots of calls, particularly from local transit groups. It will be here this year. We just want to make sure we have everything in place to support it. Clearly there are many fleets that recognize the importance of correct tire pressures.

Pressures that are out of whack by 10 per cent can cause a 30 per cent reduction in wear rates. It’s a significant loss to any fleet but it’s difficult, particularly in Canada with our cold winters, to accurately have pressures checked while the trucks are in the yard. A system like the eTire sensor not only allows a fleet to monitor tire pressure every time a truck enters or leaves a yard, or passes through a reader, it allows a fleet to better track and manage their tire assets with a whole series of reports to analyze the data through our BIB-Track software.

TN: Michelin has also entered the re-treading business in North America. How is that going?

Beaveridge: Michelin Retread Technologies started up in the U.S. about three years ago. To maximize their investment customers need to take advantage of the additional life in that tire through retreading and we feel our casing has always been the best in the marketplace. But we were very frustrated with the quality of re-treading that was available and we resp
onded to that by coming up with our own systems.

We had retreading operations in Europe and tested right here in North America. Some of the things we learned from there we migrated to the MRT system. Currently in Canada there are four re-treading plants and all our dealers have access to the Michelin retread product.

TN: Price is an issue in almost all sectors of the trucking industry. How is Michelin dealing with the downward pressure on pricing?

Beaveridge: The Michelin name has a value to it but I believe in today’s environment, particularly when we are talking about a commercial product, there is no room in pricing for a premium for a name.

If we’re not performing today with the tires we’ve just sold, then we are compromising our integrity and we can’t afford to do that, not even on one transaction. Yes our tires are higher priced but what we try to ensure is that when it comes down to what our customer’s cost per kilometre is going to be – and that’s what they are truly paying for – we are working out as the most economical for them. If you look at the tire as an investment, then the return on that investment is what’s most important, not the sticker price.


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