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Car-makers demanding ‘bespoke’ tyres: Michelin

Made to measure: Michelin says more car-makers are requesting specially designed or bespoke tyres for their cars, including Porsche.

Michelin adapting to performance demands of new sportscars

1 May 2017

By DANIEL DeGASPERI in ABU DHABI

VEHICLE manufacturers are demanding an increased number of ‘bespoke’ tyre designs for original equipment fitment, particularly at the premium end of the market, according to a Michelin executive who revealed that the French brand has separate testing teams to work with each car-maker.

Asked by GoAuto whether there was increased demand from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for a unique tyre to complement the performance characteristics of their car, Michelin engineering support and operational marketing manager Charles Donahoe replied “yes”.

“Less than one per cent of the time do we take a tyre off the shelf and it works for them (new vehicle manufacturers),” Mr Donahoe told us at the international media launch of the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S in Abu Dhabi last week.

“What happens when we tune a tyre and get that approval for original equipment, there will be this discussion and testing between Michelin and the vehicle manufacturer to actually define the final specification of the tyre.

“In the Michelin world, we have teams of test drivers, but each of the vehicle manufacturers have different orientations. Our test drivers become dedicated to either one or a couple of brands, because they want to become in tune with the customer expectations.

“So we’ll test on our side, the test driver who is assigned to that manufacturer will develop what he knows works for that manufacturer, so when it comes to a joint test for that manufacturer, hopefully we have an agreement on what the final definition of that tyre is.”

 center imageLeft: Michelin engineering support and operational marketing manager Charles Donahoe

Mr Donahoe said “customer expectations” varied considerably between new-vehicle manufacturers, leading Michelin to ensure specific engineering teams targeted tyre characteristics suitable for a particular car or SUV.

“A (Porsche) Panamera for example, a big and heavy car, Cayenne, a big and heavy car, the weight balance is pretty easy and you don’t get too much unpredictable handling in this type of car,” he said.

“So you see a lot of Michelin fitments on Panamera and Cayenne. Where we have some difficulties with Porsche is on their 911. It’s not because their product is not good enough … (but) this is about the weight balance, you’ve got the engine at the back and drive coming from the back as well, if this customer goes to the circuit and turns off traction and stability control, when you start to oversteer there is not a big margin for error before you spin.

“So what Porsche wants to do is not scare their customers and have that progressive handling at the limit. The tyre starts telling them ‘hey, we’re sliding’. If you take a tyre with a higher level of grip, that progressiveness becomes a sharper drop-off. On the limit, we’re sliding the car and we’re spinning.

“It’s just one of the aspects that Porsche try to tune, is the on-limit handling, how the tyre responds going over the limit then coming back within the limit.”

Mr Donahoe also said there was increased competition among tyre brands for business from car-makers, and this formed a significant part of the development process and target of Michelin’s first new high-performance tyre in seven years, the Pilot Sport 4S replacement for 2010’s Pilot Super Sport.

“We’re currently working with eight different manufacturers on 60 different OE opportunities so we hopefully can have a similar success with the Pilot Super Sport in generating that original equipment business,” he said.

“When we’re developing a tyre we’re sometimes out of sync with vehicle manufacturers and when they’re bringing in a new tyre or a new car to market at least. So sometimes we have what we call co-development. We’re developing a tyre, and you might find Mercedes or Ferrari are developing a car, so you can bring your tyre to the market at the same time as they are introducing their car.

“We are able to announce three-and-a-half original equipment fitments (for Pilot Sport 4S) – the Ferrari GTC4, the two AMG E-Class E43 and E63 now the reason I say half is we’re going to announce the next one in a couple of weeks.

“Some of these vehicles you can imagine, a very high level of performance, and if you look at power outputs … real performance cars and they need a tyre to match to exploit the performance of the car.”

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