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Australia leads development of new Goodyear 4x4 tyre
Oz input helps Wrangler AT SilentTrac tyre beat Goodyear’s own performance targets
18 Sep 2019
SIGNIFICANT research done in Australia has helped Goodyear exceed a number of internal performance targets for the new Wrangler AT SilentTrac 4x4 tyre that replaces the popular AT/SA model in Goodyear’s SUV and 4x4 line-up.
The new Wrangler AT SilentTrac was developed for the Asia-Pacific market and designed to provide off-road performance and toughness with fewer of the compromises usually associated with all-terrain tyres in terms of on-road noise and handling.
Speaking with GoAuto at the Wrangler AT SilentTrac launch in Brisbane this week, Goodyear and Dunlop Tyres Australia head of consumer products and market insights Raelene Smith told GoAuto that Australia was the lead country for a product development project that spanned multiple continents.
“We had a seat at the table all the way through, right from product requirements and prioritisation through to the tyre’s look and performance,” she said.
“Early in the piece I went to Shanghai to talk to key people on the project to help them understand just what off-roading means in Australia and what people do with their vehicles, so that they had a more in-depth understanding of what it is we do here, why and what we’re looking for.”
To build this understanding of consumer requirements, a series of in-depth, 90-minute ethnographic interviews were conducted with Australian customers along the eastern seaboard in both urban and rural areas, each lasting 90 minutes.
“We went to people who had all-terrain tyres and had done greater than 30 per cent off-road driving in the last six months. They needed to be people who did a bit of off-roading – not just highway driving – and had the right vehicles,” said Ms Smith.
“Going direct to the target consumers helped us to truly understand what their vehicle means to them, the type of driving they do, what they value in tyres – really getting into their needs and behaviours.”
All this information eventually landed on the desk of Frank Bucher, Goodyear Asia Pacific’s technical project manager for consumer tyres, who is based at the Goodyear Innovation Centre in Luxembourg.
Mr Bucher told GoAuto the Wrangler AT SilentTrac project presented “a lot of challenges” and that he was most proud that the team had “done what we’re supposed to do and last but not least, even doing a bit more”.
“At the end we have a product that’s quiet, it’s doing a lot of miles; we couldn’t give up any wet (performance) but then we found it’s also very good in the dry and beating its competition,” he said.
In addition to the research work done in Australia, Mr Bucher’s team of 50 engineers spent a total of 24,000 hours developing Wrangler AT SilentTrac, performing 1250 simulations and tests in labs and at proving grounds followed by 279,500km of road testing across a range of conditions in Thailand.
“A second thing that’s not so obvious is that the product keeps its performance for quite some time,” added Mr Bucher. “We’ve worn those tyres down and tested the worn performance as well. This tyre is really consistently performing, even at a certain age of tyre life.”
Ms Smith said comprehensive research work done up front in Australia contributed to the final product exceeding expectations.
“I think in this case we were very, very clear of what we were pursuing, valued and needed,” she said. “And this was exactly what we specified.
“When we talked about off-road capability, it wasn’t just a general statement of off-road capability; we talked about the traction performance we wanted, how we wanted the tyre to perform on mud, sand, grass, gravel, the full remit. We were clear on that.”
Mr Bucher explained that during the earliest stages of development, the Wrangler AT SilentTrac was uniquely subjected to a number of simulations including “mud cleaning, mud traction and soil traction”.
“That’s where it becomes a bit more sophisticated. Not every product would get that; I’m not even sure every off-road capable product would get that level of simulation,” he said.
“We wanted to know whether a design that was quiet on the road, that was supposed to go dominantly on the road, is it capable of performing in the mud and dirt?”
As the Wrangler AT SilentTrac is an aftermarket upgrade rather than factory-fit tyre, pre-production items had to be tested across a range of vehicles, especially for noise.
Ms Smith said she “drove very strongly” to address the complexity of Australia’s car parc by taking “a deep dive into the target vehicles for the segment to ensure we had the right size coverage and load ratings for our market”.
As a result, Mr Bucher’s team started the Wrangler AT SilentTrac project with 30 potential sizes and around eight of these remain unique to Australia.
The final product is claimed to provide 85 per cent market coverage with 23 sizes – up from 12 on the old AT/SA tyre – including nine suitable for light trucks. Supported rim diameters range from 15 to 18 inches.
“We target key OEMs and sizes without a doubt, but we also understand what some of the key plus-size fitments are to ensure we have coverage for those,” said Ms Smith.
“We also know we have consumers who want a higher load rating than the placard, so actually explaining that and taking the team through that so they design for that was important as well.”
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