NEW CHALLENGES IN EUROPE
GT RADIAL TRUCK RANGE
A visit to the Asian group's technical centre at MIRA, the British automotive technology park, brought to light an aggressive strategy supported by big numbers and product development that has already had important results, especially for the truck family
Mino De Rigo
At the end of 2007, the inauguration of a research and development centre at MIRA, the automotive technology park in the heart of England, two years after setting up subsidiaries in Great Britain and Germany as the bridgeheads for distribution on the Old Continent, and, coming soon, an agency in France for the OE market in Europe: the expansion programme of the Asian group Giti Tire continues step by step and aims to accelerate the accreditation process for a range of products mainly driven by the family of radials for trucks and buses (TBR). The leading tyre manufacturer in China, Giti Tire is part of the holding of the same name based in Singapore with interests that range from agriculture to finance and from retail to real estate in addition to manufacturing. As far as tyres are concerned, Giti chose the logo GT Radial for its brand identity in Europe. Corrado Moglia, director of sales southern Europe, said: "All the tyres for trucks, cars and light transport made by GT Radial for export to countries on the Old Continent conform to EU directives and standards. The development of product design and manufacturing technologies rests, first and foremost, on the work of over 300 engineers in the R&D centres in China, Indonesia and Great Britain". The latter is the European Technical Centre (ETC) situated near Birmingham at the headquarters of MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association), an independent international body for automotive development and testing that was originally set up by British car manufacturers with the support of the government; its numerous structures frequently host tests by leading tyre manufacturers as well as tests on prototypes, military vehicles and even Formula 1s.
Focus on research and development
"For our research work" - Moglia added - "we can count on the collaboration of various universities and research institutes like the National Quality Examination Centre for Rubber Tyres, the Smithers Laboratories in the USA, and the Wheel Testing Centre at Germany's technical inspections organization, TÜV", which also does E-mark noise and safety certification tests for GT Radial. Our recent visit to ETC - where a team of six specialists work on the development of original equipment and replacement tyres for different applications - on the one hand confirmed the aggressive strategy of the Chinese company, which in recent years even carried out an effective recruitment campaign for various professional figures; on the other, it allowed us to take a closer look at the product's technological content with tests in situ, which revealed that GT Radial's main message aims at safety characteristics, especially for the TBR range. "Our aim" emphasized ETC director Eddie Young - "is to have the same performance on various fronts", by continuing with the gradual improvement of areas that range from handling to braking on wet, from noise to consumption and durability.
Safety as primary target
The chief test of handling and grip on the wet was with Volvo Fh12 trucks equipped with GT Radial Gt279 tyres on the steering axle and Gt659+ on the drive axle. The stage: a constantly sprayed circle with a grip coefficient of 0.1 (practically the same as a covering of snow) to be taken anti-clockwise at constant speed, but with one km/h increases at the start of each new lap after getting up to a starting speed of 30 km/h. The trucks were loaded with a box weighing 4.5 tons to stabilize the drive axle and simulate the presence of a trailer. The GT Radials responded well to the test. "We have made considerable progress in tyre performance thanks also to continual tests that include, in addition to handling on dry and wet surfaces, the measurement of noise emissions", Young said. The tests are carried out on different types of surfaces composed of smooth, corrugated and damaged asphalt at the various MIRA facilities that include a long, wide perimeter track which simulates a stretch of motorway, a wet handling area, a turning circle to test steering, a chute for braking on the wet and aquaplaning, in addition to two tracks for simulating grip and stability on dry surfaces when driving at speed, a durability testing route and, lastly, even an off-road circuit.
Technologies for the truck series
The range of Gt Radial's TBR tyres (distributed in Italy by Magri Gomme) includes those for long-haul, regional, mixed and urban applications. Product characteristics are based on a range of technologies regarding structure, resistance to wear, protection and comfort. Both the Gt279 and Gt659+ tread patterns for long-haul applications (for steering and drive axles, respectively) share the Equal Force Carcass (EFC) solution created to optimize ground contact area through the even distribution of forces to the advantage of more even wear, and Duo Filler, the bead fillers that are a combination of a rigid component to increase durability and a softer one to increase comfort and manoeuvring. In addition to sidewall protector ribs which make the tyre more robust, they also share the Cap & Base system by which the upper layer of the tread is much more resistant to wear and the lower layer in contact with the casing provides insulation from the heat generated by rolling: a characteristics that, according to the company, will give more mileage, improve reliability and enable the tyres to be retreaded. As to the details of the two patterns, the Gt279 tyre is an all-position available in a dozen sizes from 245/70R19.5 to 315/80R22.5, distinguished by a high tread with deep grooves between the blocks with sipes and ribs designed to stabilize contact with the ground; model Gt659+ is an all-season (on the market in four sizes between 295/80R22.5 and 315/80R22.5) that boats a very thick tread, reinforced sidewalls, directional sipes and an open shoulder structure to increase traction and resistance to heal-and-toe wear.
• An X-Ray of the figures of a global group
Giti Tire (GT Radial in Europe) exports to over 100 countries and has new fewer than 1,700 different products which, under the various national and international brand names, cover applications ranging from cars to industrial vehicles to buses, from 4x4/SUVs to light transport with agricultural vehicles and aircraft in between. Its OE customers include a vast panorama of Chinese manufacturers to which can be added GM, Chevrolet and Fiat in South America, and Tata in India. Between 1996 and 2009, Giti Tire grew at an annual rate of 26%, it has five manufacturing plants in China, about 23,000 employees, and a production capacity of 142,000 tyres a day. All together, the factories occupy about 3.3 million square metres and can guarantee a total annual production of 47.4 million units.
In Italy, the GT Radial brand is distributed exclusively by Magri Gomme S.p.A.. "The commercial structure" - explained Fabio Merli, GT Radial Truck sales director - "is divided into two segments, one devoted to cars and the other to trucks. The truck network consists of ten agents, who interface constantly with the majority of specialist truck dealers and with the most important road hauliers in Italy".