LAS VEGAS—Nokian Tyres P.L.C. has developed two product lines specifically for the North American market—the zLine A/S passenger and Rockproof light truck tires—as part of its strategy to reach a broader customer base in one of the Finnish tire maker's key growth markets.
The zLine A/S is an all-season, ultra-high-performance tire line designed for a broad range of luxury and performance cars and SUVs, while the Rockproof is considered a heavy-duty light-truck tire line targeted at the professional off-road market.
Both new products are due to launch in North America in early 2017, Nokian executives told a gathering of U.S. and Canadian dealers at a recent launch event for the zLine A/S in Las Vegas.
The zLine will debut with 25 sizes in 16- to 20-inch rim diameters and in the W speed category (rated up to 168 mph), while the Rockproof will debut with 13 sizes encompassing rim diameters from 16 to 20 inches.
While the zLine tire is classified UHP for its performance potential, it's targeted more at the luxury end of the UHP category, according to Hams Dyhrman, director of marketing at Nokian Tyres North America, with more emphasis on comfort, noise and tread life. It will be promoted as a “value proposition” product and thus priced between the traditional Tier I and Tier II categories, he added.
Nokian will build most sizes at its plant in Vsevolozhsk, Russia.
The new product lines are key to Nokian's ability to broaden its reach with dealers and customers in North America, which is considered one of two strategic growth areas for the company, according to Tommi Heinonen, president of Nokian Tyres North America, the Finnish firm's Colchester, Vt.-based subsidiary.
In 2015, the North America unit accounted for nearly $180 million in sales, or about 12 percent of Nokian's global revenue. That represented 25-percent growth over 2014 and put Nokian's growth expectations for the region ahead of schedule. In late 2015 the company told the financial community it expected North America to account for 13 percent of sales by 2018.
Growth expectation could play a role in where Nokian decides to build a third factory. Executives have said they're considering sites in Eastern Europe and North America for that project.
Nokian claims the new zLine tire provides excellent mileage and fuel-saving benefits and responds well to changing road conditions thanks to a package of construction and compounding developments.
“The new Nokian zLine A/S immediately responds to steering, which is an essential requirement for safe operation at the extreme limits,” said Olli Seppala, product development manager for Nokian Tyres.
“In addition to the precise handling, these advances in technology also manifest themselves in the commendable driving comfort and durability of the tire,” he added.
Among the developments incorporated in the zLine A/S are: A stiff outside shoulder for stability on wet and slushy roads; 3D siping that binds the tread blocks together; “cooling edge” technology for more efficient sidewall cooling; polished longitudinal and transversal grooves for effective water and slush evacuation; a “clinch rubber compound” for the bead area to dampen vibrations; “silent groove design” for reduced noise generation; a high-tensile steel-belt structure that aids precise handling; and a “comfort base compound” that softens impacts for a comfortable ride.
The zLine A/S for SUVs incorporates “carefully selected and tested structural solutions” to adapt the tire's characteristics to the driving performance of SUVs.
The tread compound is even stiffer than in the passenger car model, which makes the sturdy SUV version especially balanced to handle. The service life also is improved by Nokian's aramid sidewall technology, which reduces the sidewall damage that is common to SUV drivers, the company said.
Nokian's second pitch to North American customers is the Rockproof line, geared toward applications in quarries, forests and mining areas, the company said.
Developed in cooperation with Nokian's Heavy Tyres division, the tires feature a cut-resistant hybrid tread compound; an aggressive tread pattern for improved resistance in rough off-road conditions; and aramid-reinforced sidewalls. The tire combines the special durability of heavy machine tires with the comfort of passenger tires, Nokian said.
To gain real-world feedback, Nokian asked Tom Brain of Dyer Logging Co. Ltd. in Sayward, British Columbia, to use Rockproof tires on his Ford F-350 4x4 for his work in the forestry logging sites of Vancouver Island, where the roads consist mostly of shot rock.
Brain told Nokian the tires “have stood up better than anything we've had on the last two trucks, by far,” after testing them for roughly 31,000 miles on mostly gravel roads.
The optimized tread block support provides more precise handling and stability, Nokian said, while two different side angles and the staggered support on the block sides ensure that the tire's tread blocks remain firm and that the groove bottoms will not be damaged during rougher driving. The reinforced upper part of the sidewall provides additional protection against puncture and cut damage caused by sharp rocks, the company said.
The tire also features stone ejectors at the groove bottoms to prevent sharp and jagged stones from attaching to the tread surface and penetrating the tire structure. The stone ejectors improve the tire's service life and offer additional protection by preventing tire body damage, especially on uneven terrain, Nokian said.
The tire's sidewall structure contains strong aramid fiber to reinforce the sidewall and resist impacts and cuts.
“Off-road driving and the toughest professional use require extreme durability from tires, and puncture protection in particular. Under these conditions, tires may sometimes have unpleasantly short service lives. Accidental damage causes a lot of additional costs and tire changes result in additional work. The tire has excellent cut resistance due to the tread compound that was developed for use in mines,” Seppala said.