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GOODYEAR FOCUSING ON WINTER TIRES

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AKRON—With La Nina expected to cause harsh conditions in much of the U.S. this winter, Goodyear continues to revamp its winter tire lines. The company has been focusing on safety issues with its wet-traction aquachannel tires, said Jean-Jacques Wiroth, Goodyear's brand marketing director.

``We are putting much more emphasis on winter tires and our Aquatred-brand, which have to perform under pressure conditions, including rain, water, snow and ice,'' Wiroth said.

``The Aquatred line's wet-traction capabilities gave motorists a new awareness for driving in the rain,'' he said. To retain the company's technological advantage, Wiroth said future tires will combine new run-flat and ultra-tensile steel technologies with aquachannels.

An extensive marketing campaign will continue, particularly on television. ``We have ambitious plans for this technology,'' he said. ``Development of new tires takes months, if not years. If you upgrade a successful tire, such as a wet-traction tire, it takes from a year to 18 months. When we look at consumer patterns, which is done on a continuous basis, we want to know what they look for in a tire. The No. 1 answer has been wet traction.''

Winter tires provide about 25 percent better traction than all-season tires, the marketing director said.

``I come from a part of the world where winter tires are very important,'' the Luxembourg native said. ``We are really stressing the importance of winter tires in America. We are going to be revamping our total winter tire lineup, and will do extensive marketing of winter tires next year.''

Recent weather forecasts for winter call for warmer than normal temperatures in the South, with cooler readings in the North. A 1995 weather study published in ``Nature'' showed rain occurs more on weekends along the Atlantic Coast.

``The ramification of these downpours and weekend rain for motorists can be serious,'' Wiroth said. ``More puddles on the roadway make vehicles susceptible to skidding.''

A heavy downpour or thunderstorm can produce an 0.8-inch-deep water film on the road. In such conditions, a typical passenger tire at 60 mph displaces more than 60 gallons of water per minute. In deeper water, tread design must move more water to resist skidding.