Articles - Archive


UHP tires for luxury cars


Available in three different models, Pirelli’s latest effort aims to consolidate the presence of the company in premium and prestige segments, also as original equipment

Guido Gambassi

The 86th Geneva Motor Show, the world's showcase for premium and luxury vehicles, saw Pirelli’s latest addition, the P Zero, being unveiled to the press, and celebrating thirty years of success with a new tread design. The new arrival follows a specific market strategy, namely, strengthening Pirelli’s presence, as original equipment supplier, in the luxury segment. Not surprisingly then,  even before its official launch, the new P Zero already boasted 56 approvals by the most prestigious car manufacturers in the world, for luxury and ultra-luxury models.

This is, in fact, the strategic vision behind the creation of Pirelli’s P Zero. With the domestic car market finally  back on track after a prolonged downturn, considering that at international level the minus sign has never been seen in recent annual reports, the standard segment, during the 2000-2020 period, shows an overall estimated growth of 50 %, while the premium segment scored an impressive + 200%, and an even more impressive +600% in the luxury segment, at least according to Pirelli estimates, two segments that represent the company’s main interest with the intention to strengthen its presence for years to come. For example, according to Gregorio Borgo, operations general manager of Pirelli: "To date 50% of luxury cars and 32% of premium cars are equipped with Pirelli as original equipment tires, which makes us market leaders in the first segment and co-leaders in the second".


A market segment destined to grow very quickly, thanks to a variety of factors that create a unique mix of opportunities: in fact, new vehicle segments are now available to manufacturers, after premium sports SUVs and electric sports cars, a new segment, the luxury SUV makes its debut on the market, with manufacturers traditionally linked to sports and luxury cars (Maserati, Lamborghini, Bentley, etc.). Geographically, the current trend shows a fast growth in the Gulf countries as well as China, which might be experiencing a small economic crisis but proves to be increasingly hungry for sports cars, UHP and luxury vehicles. Furthermore, new players are showing a considerable interest in this segment of the market, like Tesla and McLaren, destined to have a meaningful role on the market.


The OE market is therefore a rich source of opportunities, also in terms of technological development. This is what Pirelli calls the Perfect Fit strategy: creating the most suitable type of tire for each car model. This strategy has acquired such importance that within Pirelli, the general view is that the company is no longer just a mere supplier, but a development partner, in a shared process of research with the automotive industry that looks at creating not a tire but a real component.


Gregorio Borgo continues by stating that Pirelli’s strategy of product differentiation, a kind of “customization”, aims, along with a number of premium manufacturers, at supplying clients with the right product for their vehicles. The current race towards designing tires tailor made on the characteristics of a specific vehicle has boosted Pirelli’s approvals to about 2200, with a 10% growth over September 2015 when, during the Frankfurt Saloon, the 2000 mark was reached. The P Zero range alone has 500 items with 800 approvals.


During the last thirty years, the P Zero has supplied as OE over a thousand cars in the premium and luxury segments, yet the leadership in the OE market does not overshadow the great opportunities represented by the aftermarket. According to a research related to brand products presented by Pirelli, only 16% of motorists are aware of using approved tires, while 46% of them were prepared to pay more to have them, and a further 32% might be willing, perhaps, to pay more for them. No lack of opportunities then for the aftermarket, in which the role of the tire dealer is a rather crucial one, being able to recommend the correct approved product to maintain the best possible level of performance for a specific car.


After all, if we don’t take after-sales into account it would be difficult to understand the P Zero sales potential: so far 80 million P Zero have been sold, which will probably become 100 by the end of 2018, with an annual estimated sales volume of 7 million pieces (20% of which must be ascribed to the new P Zero). Besides approved products, aftermarket sales relating to large size tires have soared in recent years: nowadays, 18 inch plus tires sold in the aftermarket make up 20% of Pirelli’s total sales volume, 45% of the turnover and 65% of the profits.


One brand, three versions                                                


The new P Zero, will be marketed starting early April 2016, with a 5 % higher price list compared to the previous product. The tread pattern has been developed for three different segments, in
three technological variants with different applications and performances. For high-performance cars the tread pattern shows fewer sipes and guarantees a more dynamic performance. For large sedans, like the BMW 7 series, the second tread pattern has deeply grooved outer shoulder, designed to absorb to a greater extent the ground’s roughness, enhancing the comfort required by these models. Finally, the third pattern, labeled P Zero Corsa, boasts a more aggressive tread pattern specifically designed for the track and approved by McLaren. To date the P Zero family can count on 11 specially designed products.


Talking about the technical differences between the new and the previous P Zero, Pirelli specialists said that the goal was to produce a UHP tire with a low rolling resistance. Moreover, the new P Zero has an innovative structure designed to optimize the dumping of vertical forces, and thanks to the PNCS (the Pirelli Noise-Cancelling System) represents a huge step forward in terms of rolling noise reduction.


Pirelli, furthermore, announced to unveil more technical details during future drive tests planned for the specialized press. Meanwhile, the various car models unveiled in Geneva play a major role in promoting the brand: cars like the Ferrari GTC4, with all-wheel steering technology, the Porsche Boxer 718, Audi R8 Spider, Maserati Levante ( the first Maserati SUV ), not to mention the F-Pace (Jaguar’s first SUV), the new BMW 7 Series, the Lamborghini Centenario, Pagani Huayra, McLaren 570 GT, and Italdesign’s concept GTZero, all equipped, it goes without saying, with approved P Zeros.



P Zero a thirty years tale


It was 1986 when Pirelli created the first P Zero, specifically developed for the Lancia Delta S4. Only a year later, in 1987, the brand went from rallies to the road, with the Ferrari F40, which represented the beginning of a new era for road tires: for the first time, in fact, a tire with a 17-inch diameter equips a road car with different sizes between the front and rear axle reaching the speed symbol "Z" (above 240 km / h). In 1994, the first variant, P Zero System, was introduced directly from motorsports, designed exclusively as OE for UHP cars, providing high performance and designed to reduce hydroplaning. Furthermore, in order to meet the requirements of more “average” sport coupes which still required high performance tires, in 2000 the P Zero Rosso range was launched, with the ambition of providing a tire able to guarantee performances close to the "P Zero System" coupled with a higher comfort. Over the years, the range has been characterized by a separate design between rear and front axle: the P Zero Rosso becomes Asimmetrico on the rear axle, while the front tires are called P Zero Rosso Direzionale.  Two years later a tire dedicated to the aftermarket makes its debut: P Zero Nero, replaced in 2013 by the updated P Zero Nero GT, dedicated as a replacement for the sports cars and high-powered saloons. The range was further enriched in 2003 with the P Zero Corsa System, born from a collaboration between Pirelli and Ferrari for the road version of the Ferrari 360 Challenge, also characterized by two different tread patterns, an asymmetric rear and a directional front tire. In 2007 an important innovation revamps the P Zero range: the use of special tread compounds combine driving comfort with gutsy  performance. Another important partnership in 2010 sees the arrival of the P Zero Corsa Asimmetrico 2, designed for the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera, but soon to be adopted as OE on a number of UHP cars. The high-speed and cornering stability make it suitable for competitive use on race tracks as well. At the same time, Pirelli creates a tire designed to meet the requirements of racing teams: the P Zero Trofeo, which, unlike many race tires, happens to be approved also for road use. The 2012 development of this tire was called P Zero Trofeo R, and employs new innovative tread patterns, improving stability, especially lateral grip in dry conditions while reducing tread wear. Meanwhile Pirelli makes its entry in the premier class of motor racing, with P Zero Formula 1: all the slick tires produced by Pirelli for use in Formula 1 belong to the P Zero family. The new regulation for the 2016 season provide for five different slick compounds available, easily recognizable by the colored strip on the shoulder: Supersoft (Red), Ultrasoft (Purple), Soft (Yellow), Medium (White) and Hard (Orange). Finally, for the thirtieth anniversary of the brand, Pirelli launches the nuovo P Zero, in two versions, dedicated to HP sedans and UHP sports cars, as well as the nuovo P Zero Corsa, very similar to a racing slick tire and made for UHP road vehicles.

back to archive