D P Singh

Goodyear India claims its new DuraPlus range of extended life tyres will last 100,000km. Darius Lam speaks to D P Singh, vice-president – consumer business, to find out more.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 30 Jun 2009 Views icon2564 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
D P Singh

What are the highlights of the DuraPlus range?
The Goodyear DuraPlus with TredLife technology is a tyre that is targeted at the A and B segment vehicles like the Ritz, Santro and i10 which are growing strongly and have high volumes in the market. Our starting point in developing this new range was the consumer. So we spoke to people who drive vehicles like these and asked them what they wanted from their tyres. This is a value-driven segment in relative terms, so the majority of them wanted their tyres to last longer. That was the challenge we gave our engineers in developing this new tyre and I can say that we have the best R&D in the tyre industry. Our engineers will tell you that it’s easy to make a tyre last longer, as long as you are willing to give up on braking performance. So you make the tyre really hard by making the rubber very hard and the tyre will last much longer. Of course, our heritage is built on safety so we wanted no compromises on that. So we had to ensure good braking ability, good handling, and no aquaplaning in the wet. So it was a non-trivial challenge which they took on and when they came back with the data, it surprised all of us. In fact we did not believe it was true because it was so much better than the competition and what we had expected. We actually asked them to revalidate the data.
What is the lifespan of these new tyres?
These tyres will last up to 100,000km or more. Of course how you drive a vehicle, what roads you drive it on, how often you press the brakes, all of that makes a huge difference to tyre life and this will be true of any automotive component. Duraplus is going to offer a tread life that Indian consumers in this segment would not have experienced before. The specific lifespan will vary from person to person but they are going to see huge gains relative to what they are used to. As regards current lifespan of tyres, there is no hard data but when you ask consumers they say their tyres last around 40,000km to 60,000km, so our new DuraPlus is a major improvement. Also, the value proposition for the consumer is going to be very good. To demonstrate these new tyres, we have conducted the ‘Long Drive Campaign’ where we have had two cars driving across the country, stopping en route to show customers the new tyres through some events. How much do DuraPlus tyres cost?The good news about a competitive environment is that you have to price competitively. So depending on the size, The price will range from Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,500 per tyre.
Where was the tyre developed?
More than 100 engineers, physicists, chemical experts and tyre evaluation specialists have worked on the DuraPlus. Our main research labs are in Luxembourg and Akron in the US. We also have a test fleet in Thailand for testing and validation work on different road conditions and different vehicles and the most scientific of the tests for the DuraPlus were done there. We have also done controlled tests here in India where we have revalidated the data. In all, there have been three layers of development and testing that have gone into the development of the DuraPlus range.
How has the extended range been achieved?
To preserve braking performance, our engineers could not make the compound significantly harder than our other tyres. Nevertheless, there are many dimensions to the rubber compound and there are many things they can do with it. The tread compound has been optimised. The other easy way to do this is just to put more rubber on the tyre itself. This tyre has a little bit more rubber than our other tyres but it's not the most rubber in the industry either. The real magic seems to have come from very intense computational work that our labs did where they optimised the shape of the tyre cavity. By doing this, they were able to optimise the footprint, which in turn optimises the tread wear. Visually it is difficult to tell this tyre apart, but there is a lot of technology that has gone into its development.
Why not offer this tyre for other segments of the automotive market?
We obviously want to come in with relevant technology and so we asked consumers what they wanted. Different segments have slightly different needs and in the value segment, tread life is the key requirement. When you move to slightly larger vehicles, then issues like safety, comfort and grip become more important factors. We have another tyre called Assurance with ArmorGrip technology that we launched a year ago. This is best-in-class in terms of braking and performance on wet roads. Of course, there is some overlap; as we can expand the launch of the DuraPlus, we may introduce some sizes for larger vehicles. But basically, we try and optimise the feature set for each segment of the market depending on their needs.
Where will this new range be manufactured?
It will be made at our Aurangabad plant but we are launching this range in other markets around Asia as well. If demand exceeds supply, then we might import from our other operations but the goal is to primarily make and sell the tyre in India.
Tell us about your OE business?
We are very committed to our OE partners and we have such relationships with pretty much every vehicle manufacturer in India. We are working with several OE manufacturers for the DuraPlus as well, but I would not be able to elaborate on this. As a company we are evenly split in terms of our OE and replacement businesses. I am optimistic that we have turned a corner as far as auto industry growth is concerned. Prior to the slowdown, the industry was growing at about 15 percent. I am not sure if we will get back to those levels but India is clearly going to be at the levels of growth that Western markets would envy. The growth rate will probably increase towards the end of the year due to the base effect, so we have to be careful not to get too excited about the growth. Another positive development is the emergence of the low-cost car segment with models like the Tata Nano. This will change the dynamics of the market and increase growth and volumes which is good news for us, even though we do not directly supply the Nano.
What is the trend for rubber prices and other inputs?
The volatility we have seen in the past 18 months has been unlike anything we have seen in the past. We certainly saw a huge spike last year and we saw some of that retreat in the early part of this year. Natural rubber prices are back up again and we are yet to see them stabilise. It is hard to predict long-term prices at the moment and we have to be constantly vigilant on input costs and make sure that we are appropriately positioned to ensure that we are not very adversely affected.
What about the threat from imports of cheaper Chinese tyres?
Anyone who is bringing in tyres through unfair channels is a threat to the local industry. This includes dumping tyres, as the Chinese are sometimes accused of doing or whether they are entering without paying the correct import duties. I don’t know if this is true or not, but we are certainly willing to compete on a level- playing field.
What about bringing in new tyres like run-flats or low-rolling resistance tyres?
Globally we are the market leaders on run-flat tyres and we are big suppliers to BMW in Europe, which is a market leader on the adoption of this technology. It is still a small segment in India and also the run-flat is an OE-driven segment. So vehicle manufacturers have to incorporate it into their vehicle design. Consumers have not embraced this new technology in the aftermarket at this time. Whether run-flats are suitable for Indian road conditions remains to be seen. In Europe, while run-flats are a growing and significant segment of the market, they have still not gone mainstream. As far as low-rolling resistance is concerned, the DuraPlus tyre which we have just launched actually has very good low-rolling resistance characteristics at an affordable price. There are more expensive technologies that provide even lower rolling resistance, but those are for super-premium cars and we don't think they are appropriate for India just yet.

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