The most interesting tidbit I found in the J.D. Power U.S. OE Tire Customer Satisfaction Study is that run-flat tires have made significant strides in its ratings over the past three years. This is good news for vehicle manufacturers in their quest to replace spare tires, but I don't think it's quite time to declare that run-flat tires are ready to take over the tire industry.
There was a time not that long ago when the world's top tire makers were pushing for that to be the case. Let's take a trip back to July 1997. Then-Goodyear Chairman Sam Gibara declared that beginning in early 1998, the Akron-based tire producer would begin converting all of its replacement tire capacity to manufacture run-flat tires. "The stories of someone standing in the rain changing a flat tire ultimately will be told by our generation to a disbelieving youth," he said.
Goodyear was far from the only tire maker trying to push run-flats. Michelin hailed its Pax tire-wheel system as the gold standard of the run-flat world. And in mid-2000 the French company and Goodyear teamed up with a 50-50 technical joint venture, each granting license to give the other access to their respective run-flat technologies.
At a New York event announcing the venture, the projections were similar to those Gibara made three years earlier. "When Michelin invented the Pax system, we knew we had a winner," Michelin CEO Edouard Michelin said. "We know it had great potential to become the standard of tires for the 21st century."
In January 2001, Bridgestone and Continental agreed to work together to develop global standards for run-flat tire systems. Even J.D. Power in 1998 projected that 80 percent of cars would be fitted with run-flats by 2010.
But a number of factors prevented the grandiose visions from becoming anywhere near reality. Michelin and its Pax system, particularly, were the poster child for the failure of run-flats. Beginning in 2005, Honda made Pax standard on the Odyssey, the best-selling U.S. minivan at the time. But the tire-wheel system didn't meet expectations and required special equipment to repair or replace that service garages balked at buying.
Class-action lawsuits followed, and less than three years later Michelin pulled the plug on Pax. Case studies have been written on the failure.
These days, Bridgestone is the most visible tire maker pushing run-flats, with its DriveGuard aftermarket line that was introduced in 2014 and since supported by strong national television campaigns. Thus far DriveGuard's seem to be getting decent reviews and carry a price point not that far above traditional tires.
While far from taking over the market, at least it's a step in the right direction.