LOUISVILLE, KY — Pirelli, a tire maker that many North Americans equate with Formula 1 or Superbike racing circuits, has announced plans to launch commercial tires in North America.
“We’re coming. We’re testing,” says Clif Armstrong, who has been named president of the company’s newly formed TP Commercial Solutions. The products are to be manufactured in Brazil and available for Class 6-8 applications, with selected sizes available for Class 5 vehicles.
One thing that sets this announcement apart from traditional rollouts, however, is the lack of tires. They are not yet available through a tire dealer near you. But 40 North American fleets are involved in testing 1,800 tires in on/off-road and linehaul applications. Armstrong himself spent time in Montreal working on some of the tests.
The final results for steer and drive tires in the on/off-road segment are expected in 60 days, meaning production could begin by September. Tests of the 225 linehaul tires will take eight to 12 months. And Armstrong says there is no rush: “We’re going to do this the right tire at the right time.”
The announcement still deserves to be taken seriously. Pirelli makes 5 million commercial tires per year for markets including Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, using production facilities established in Brazil, China, Egypt and Turkey. Armstrong is familiar with the North American market, having held senior roles with Continental Tire.
Of course, this market presents some unique needs. Steer tires with decoupler grooves, for example, are unique to North America. In some regions, a “linehaul” trip runs less than 300 kilometres. The casings here, Armstrong says, will have to support retreads. Then again, each market represents unique challenges. Need a tire that can handle high heats and high loads? Think of Turkey and Brazil.
As for competition, Armstrong says Pirelli plans to compete with Tier One manufacturers in the product lines that it produces. “You have the ability to reach that level if you have the product,” he says.
It explains why the first two employees were product engineers. The sales teams are being established next, and Pirelli will soon reach beyond the four servicing dealerships that have been identified. “We’re going to make sure [dealers] have the ability to make money on it,” he says.
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