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27/08/2015
DRIVING IN STYLE!

Designer tires


Nowadays tires can boast new emotional contents in order to appeal to the end user. If in the recent past, products designed by internationally acclaimed designers were not uncommon, the time has now arrived to welcome new brands from other sectors

Paolo Ferrini

There is no escaping. At the end of the day, when the general public – or the end users as experts like to call them – decides to change tires, the choice seems to fall on the same brands: Pirelli, Michelin, Goodyear, Bridgestone, Continental and so on… In other words, those that, due to tradition, reputation or habit, have always been the reference products for most motorists. On the other hand, if saving is paramount, second choice brands are also available. But this is a different story. The fact is that tires do not exercise any kind of charm on customers who ultimately are more concerned with unnecessary electronic gadgets.  Excluding the most passionate and competent users, those who opt for a tire over another on the basis of the technical contents of the product and their driving needs, for most motorists tires are pretty much the same (and the duty of a good dealer is precisely to guide the customer and explain the product). For both categories, the purchase is dictated by very rational reasons, whether based on technical contents in one case, or price, expert advice and availability on the other. While some brands have developed over the years a reputation based on reliability or sportsmanship, the level of emotions that a single product inspires in the end user is still often quite low. Therefore, in order to overcome the problem, some manufacturers have tried to improve the image of a given product. In 2009, for example, to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Vredestein asked Giorgetto Giugiaro to design the profile and the sidewall of its Ultrac Cento hi-performance tire ( the name is no coincidence, but a specific reference to the firm’s centenary). “ - Less is more - was  the concept behind the design of this new product” as Alberto Malucchi, Vredestein press agent, explained at the time.  "That means we have deliberately chosen a minimalist design, functional yet stylish, to strongly emphasize the character of the tire". In a few words: a peculiar cross-hatching on the two longitudinal grooves enhanced the streamlined design as well as the sporty character of a tire with speed symbol Y.

 

A similar path was soon followed by Dunlop, as a year later it unveiled its new SP SportMaxx, an asymmetric dual compound high-performance tire with MRT (Multi Radius Tread) technology, the sidewall of which was designed by Pininfarina, whose logo appeared - and it was the first time ever for the Turin based company! - precisely on the tire’s sidewall.

 

Unfortunately though, all that effort (think, for example, at the time and resources devoted to negotiations between the tire manufacturers and the designers involved) did not unfortunately produce an appreciable response from the market - perhaps because, to be honest, at the time these initiatives were not adequately advertised and in both cases they were decidedly niche products.

Who knows what kind of reaction from the general public would this initiative have received if better advertised. Not to mention manufacturers of some of the world’s most exclusive vehicles, ever alert to ideas that will enhance their brand, faced with the opportunity to equip their cars with “designer tires”, created by some of the world’s leading designers. However, the seed was sown and had apparently sparked the imagination of some entrepreneurs, even though results were not entirely positive. This is the case of Massimo Ciocca, CEO of Momo Srl, founded in 1964 by Giampiero Moretti, a former racing driver and entrepreneur, who over the years has built up an international reputation as a manufacturer of fine car accessories, such as steering wheels, hubs and above all alloy wheels. The idea of pairing these wheels with tires carrying the same brand prompted Ciocca to create, in 2012, a new brand of tires - Momo Tires - capitalizing on the image of a company that is part and parcel of the automobile history. In short, the idea was to combine a brand of great "appeal" and well known by motor racing fans all over the world, such as Momo, with a range of affordable products, competitive and well-positioned as an entry-level in the "quality " segment of the market.

 

To implement the project, the company used concurrent or simultaneous engineering, a method of designing and developing new products in which three stages, design, production and testing as well as marketing run simultaneously rather than consecutively. This decreases product development time leading to greater productivity and reduced costs regardless of where the goods are manufactured.  The project and design are made in Italy, the computer simulation of the product takes place in Finland, the production is made in Qingdao, China, in the factories of the Jinyu Group (young Chinese company with an advanced research and development center), testing is performed by IDIADA in Spain, certifications are provided by the RDW (Dutch Road Transport Directorate) and the German TUV. A truly international program!

“Tires represent a new challenge for Momo, and we are convinced that it will bring our group to new heights” says Massimo Ciocca from Momo srl. Meanwhile it is noteworthy to see that Momo Tires’ product range is structured over 180 different applications in different segments, such as automobiles, SUVs, 4x4 and Vans, in both summer and winter options and available in 40 countries. “ We are proud of our partnership with Univergomma, a company present on the market since 1956, which helped us in realizing such an ambitious project” continues Ciocca.

"The new Momo tires are part of a highly competitive market segment," emphasizes Massimo Peccia of Univergomma, official Momo Srl licensee for Momo Tires "and have all the right credentials to become a great commercial success. The technology used, the quality of the components used in the production process and price positioning will be competitive at the highest levels and the market’s response will prove this".

 

Meanwhile, one thing is certain: Momo Tires’ initiative has already produced some famous emulators. During last year's SEMA Show (Speciality Equipment Market Association), in Las Vegas, Timberland, which will celebrate a century in the footwear industry in the near future, announced the launch, in 2015, of a production line of tires in partnership with Omni United of Singapore (whose leading brand is Radar Tires, but produces also Goodride, Birla Tyres, Roadlux, Corsa Radial and Speedway). The program is structured around the marketing (initially in the US alone and online) of three lines of tires: “Cross” for small SUVs and crossover vehicles, “A/T” for large SUVs and “Tour” for cars.

An important and qualifying factor of Timberland’s project lies in the collaboration with North America Liberty Tire Recycling, a US company specializing in the disposal of scrap tires (ELTs) in order to reuse worn out rubber in a line of footwear. Assuming an average distance of 80-130 thousand kilometers depending on the model, by the second half of 2017, the first Timberland tires should be available to be converted into footwear. Meanwhile, or until the critical mass of reusable ELTs is reached, Timberland will use other types of recycled rubber for a special collection of boots, with soles reproducing the same tread pattern of its tires, to be launched in the fall of 2016.

The goal, besides being obviously commercial, is to strengthen the environmentally friendly image of the brand created in 1918 by Nathan Swartz. It is important, however, that the strong “lifestyle” imprint of all traditional Timberland products (not just footwear, but also casual wear, watches and leather items) is supported by products that offer performance and safety in line with the public’s expectations.

Now the question is, whether Timberland, alongside its internationally renowned production of shoes for men (and women, of course!), intends to run a parallel production of "shoes" for cars,  or whether the idea is to manufacture tires in order to obtain material with a low environmental impact once these have worn out. The question is legitimate.

 

Hard to say at this point, if and how successful these initiatives will be. One thing seems certain, though: given the past history and the reputation of the two firms, it would be nice to see a sports car or a SUV equipped respectively with Momo and Timberland tires. Perhaps even just a single special line! The gauntlet has been thrown. Is there anyone ready to pick it up?

 

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