How does a company like Michelin go about launching a new model of tyre in our region?
Get a grip on new tyres launching in the UAE
The media launch of any new car these days can be an unbelievably lavish affair. With an average of 10 per cent of a new model's development costs being associated with its presentation to press and dealerships alike, there's no shortage of money or interested parties, desperate for inclusion on the guest list. But how does a company like Michelin go about launching a new model of tyre in our region? As essential as those four bands of black rubber are for our comfort and very survival, we can't really get excited about them, can we?
They might all look essentially the same but tyres are incredibly varied pieces of technological equipment. The ones you choose for your car or motorcycle could, literally, be a matter of life or death, and it's generally accepted as one of life's ultimate false economies to fit cheap, spurious brands to cut costs.
Michelin has been in business for 124 years and is responsible for the invention of the removable tyre, along with many other advancements we all take for granted. The company invented the radial tyre and had its tyres fitted to Nasa's space shuttles, as well as the Airbus A380 passenger jet, so it's fair to say it knows a thing or two about those black rubber rings. And this day, Michelin is in Ajman to launch its latest model: the Primacy 3.
As product launches go, it's hardly an adrenalin rush. Press hacks assemble at the venue, hear a few words about the development of the new tyre (which has been on sale in other regions since last year), a bit about financial incentives and promotions and that's it. But I'm curious to know more, so manage to corner Michelin's product marketing manager, Terry Khokhar, who explains what's involved in new tyre development.
"First we have to diagnose the performance of the current product, to identify what needs to be improved," he says. "We have to anticipate future regulatory requirements - noise, wet grip, etc. - and design them into the new product, addressing specific needs of new target markets in terms of sizes, applications and usages. We also have joint development programmes with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to optimise the chassis and tyre match for the desired performance of their models with regards to handling, comfort, sportiness and other factors."
He goes on to explain the extensive testing procedures, computer modelling and simulations, specific laboratory tests (crown and sidewall endurance, continuous high-speed running at different ambient temperatures and more), as well as the company's testing on vehicles at its purpose built test tracks in Europe, Asia and America. But the overriding message here is that this is more than just a pneumatic tyre - this is the result of as much testing and development as anything else. And yes, Michelin tests its products in the UAE before they go on sale, just like various car manufacturers do. If a tyre, like a vehicle, can last in the heat of a UAE summer, it will last practically anywhere.
"As with all Michelin tyres for 'summer' use conditions, the structural design and materials used in the Primacy 3 cater for a wide range of temperatures and applications," adds Khokha, "and its tread compounds carry the highest temperature grading A. It also builds on the excellent track record of the outgoing Primacy HP, which has been a benchmark product in the Middle East for its robust performance under very demanding conditions of use."
But how has the outgoing model been improved upon? Braking performance, he tells me, has been considerably improved in dry and wet conditions, as well as wet cornering. You might be wondering what that means for us in the UAE, but 70 per cent of all accidents occur on dry road surfaces, and independent tests show that this new Michelin pulls a car to a stop from 100kph in 2.2 metres less road space than its competitors. And those 2.2 metres might mean the difference between life and death for you, your passengers or a pedestrian - something to bear in mind next time you're tempted to save a few hundred dirhams by choosing that cheap brand that nobody has ever heard of.