AKRON, Ohio — Firestone and North America’s owner/operators and small fleets have much in common: they’ve both been essential to getting trucking to where it is today, and they both deserve a lot more respect and attention than they’ve been getting of late.
Firestone’s Ship by Truck campaign back in 1918 was a key driver to helping the freight industry take off. But over the past few decades the Firestone brand has admittedly suffered from a lack of attention and investment. Similarly owner/operators and small fleets form the heart of the continent’s transportation industry but were deeply hurt during the Great Recession and many have yet to recover.
So it’s rather fitting that Bridgestone Commercial Solutions, Firestone’s parent company, is looking to reinvigorate the Firestone brand with new tire advancements that specifically address the needs of owner/operators and small fleet owners.
“Success isn’t just about surviving; it’s about thriving as a brand. And this is the year of Firestone,” Phillip Dobbs, chief marketing officer, told media invited to the Firestone Media Boot Camp held at the company’s modern (and extremely impressive) Americas Technical Center in Akron, Ohio . But he was quick to add that while the marketing message is important, “if you can’t put the right product on the road, it doesn’t matter.”
What does matter for owner/operators and small fleets, according to Kurt Danielson, president of Bridgestone Commercial Solutions are fuel efficiency, long tread wear and casing durability – all of which lead to bottom line relief. And that’s what Firestone has focused on with its three new commercial truck tires for regional to long-haul use.
“You can make things as complicated as you want. We try to make things simple,” Danielson said.
The tires for the steer, drive, and trailer positions are available in the US now and will be available in the sizes Canadian users favor in the late fall.
The new tires – the FS591, FD691, and FT491 – also meet EPA SmartWay and California Air Resources Board (CARB) fuel efficiency requirements without sacrificing removal miles, according to Firestone. Here is some information on each tire.
FS591 Steer Radial – Combines low rolling resistance tread and energy-saving casing design for fuel efficiency. The FS591 also features a wide, deep tread and proprietary shoulder design for greater removal mileage and irregular wear resistance. The ULTI-Rib and Defense Side Groove designs promote smooth wear while a continuous shoulder offers long, even wear and lower rolling resistance.
FD691 Drive Radial –A continuous shoulder design and high-rigidity tread pattern is designed to generate long, even wear, helping increase tread life and lower rolling resistance. Flow-through design evacuates water to increase road grip. The tire’s optimized bead design and proprietary compound found in the sidewall lowers rolling resistance and improves fuel efficiency throughout the lifecycle of the casing.
FT491 All-Position Radial – Includes ULTI-Rib and Defense Groove designs to combat the initiation and spread of irregular wear. Sidewall protector ribs help protect the casing from curbing damage and abrasion. Plus, wider tread spreads load over a larger area, distributing footprint pressure to promote long, smooth wear, the company says. The wider design also takes a full-size drive cap when retreaded for extended life.
In combination, the tires deliver 19% longer life, and a 1% improvement in fuel economy, which according to Firestone officials, should translate into $1,200 or 7% savings in annual operating costs, on average.
Developing tires for the cost-conscious owner/operators and small fleet market is a challenge because the cost of new advances can’t be offset by higher pricing.
“How did we do it? By technology; it’s as simple as that,” said Todd Buxton with commercial tire development.
To reduce the cost involved with traditional road testing and boost its speed to market, Firestone has increasingly migrated towards computerized testing of its compounds and indoor wear tests of its prototype tires. Computer modeling technology can generate test results within a week or two compared to a minimum of a year spent in field tests.
Another advance has been the use of 3D printing technology, which builds sections of a prototype by adding layer on layer much like a typical office printer produces color documents. Doing so saves time and can point out faults not readily evident on the computer screen.
“It’s amazing how you can look at something on a computer screen for days and days and not see something that you see right away with the actual model created,” explained Keven Schefele during an extensive tour of the company’s Americas Technical Centre.
Migrating to indoor wear tests on development tires also shaved time and cost in comparison to the traditional outdoor in-field trials.
In designing the three new tires, Buxton explained that Firestone engineers leveraged technologies developed at different times and combined them to produce more efficient tires. For example, the new sidewall tire design was developed to reduce mass in an area where it was not really needed and by doing so tire rolling resistance, and hence fuel savings, was improved.
Other advances, as explained by Buxton, included:
Optimized rigidity: computer modeling was used to optimize the tread pattern stiffness to reduce the potential for irregular wear’
Shoulder base construction: used strategic placement of a reduced stiffness compound to control how the tire deforms when rolling to reduce irregular wear;
Cool running sidewall: utilizing a new sidewall compound with lower energy loss properties resulted in improved rolling resistance
Defense side groove: combined the best of two technologies to minimize shoulder irregular wear to extend tire life
Nano pro tech tread: compound utilizes special grades of polymers and carbon blacks to improve tread wear life while simultaneously improving rolling resistance.
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