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Making effective drive tire choices for everything from linehaul to severe service vehicles

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“Fleets want the best of both worlds, so the latest features and technologies being designed in new drive tires are providing industry-leading mileage and even wear,” says Sharon Cowart, director of product marketing at Michelin North America Inc. “Construction features such as dual compound treads allow the tire to be built with a top layer of rubber providing good mileage, and a bottom layer which runs cool and contributes to low rolling resistance for better fuel economy.”

Helmut Keller, Continental’s head of product and brand management for commercial vehicle tires in the Americas region, notes that in general there are two basic tread designs for commercial vehicle drive tires. “The first is a rib type design that features a closed shoulder that is optimized for fuel efficiency,” he explains. “The other is a block or lug design intended to provide traction that features an opened tread shoulder. Fleets need to choose the tread pattern which best suits their operational needs at the lowest overall cost.”

“When selecting the proper drive tire, there are a number of variables to consider,” says David Phillips, commercial tire manager at Hankook Tire America Corp. “Linehaul fleets want a drive tire that provides the best combination of fuel efficiency, traction and mileage performance, and in most cases a retreadable casing.

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“Regional fleets might not be as concerned with fuel efficiency, but they emphasize retreadability and increased traction characteristics, especially if their vehicles are traveling on rural roads or in inclement weather conditions,” Phillips continues. “In addition, vocational fleets that once opted for open shoulder drive tires for traction are now choosing heavily siped closed shoulder or hybrid designs that can provide excellent traction without the irregular wear that is common with open shoulder designs.”

Matthew Hanchana, senior manager of technical sales and product marketing at Giti Tire (USA) Ltd., says the first step in choosing drive tires is to determine the fleet’s application. “Manufacturers develop application-specific products, and so there are several types of tires available that are suitable for both long haul and regional applications,” he says.

“However, each type of tire has distinct characteristics for specific driving needs,” Hanchana adds. “For example, long haul tires are designed to travel more than 100,000 miles each year and are driven primarily on highways with infrequent stops. In contrast, regional haul tires turn more often and encounter rougher road conditions.”

“The designs of typical drive tires have advanced to meet particular fleet needs,” says Phillip Mosier, Cooper Tire’s manager of commercial tire development. “It’s no longer that one size or design fits all applications. Each type of trucking requires a different attribute from a drive tire. For example, strictly long haul operations might want more fuel efficiency. Conversely, a fleet that runs a combination of long haul and inner city routes might want a drive tire with more chip and cut resistance.

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“Selecting the proper tread design and compound characteristics for drive tires can make your investment pay off,” Mosier continues. “Fleets need to take advantage of a tire’s design characteristics to lower their overall tire costs. As a result, when designing drive tires we look at driving conditions in different applications. Some of the factors are tread wear, fuel economy, casing durability, traction, stone holding and resistance to cutting and chipping, noise and ride comfort and handling.

“The latest trend for drive tires has been all-season tread designs for northern states and Canada,” he adds. “To further improve this particular design for traction, siping has been increased two-fold. The key is that the amount of linear biting edges improves traction over a design with less siping so sipes on these tires are corrugated to add linear biting edges. The other trend has been a move to wider and softer treads. A 12% increase in tread width improves traction and tread wear, while a softer tread compound improves snow traction.”

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Raul Garcia of Falken Tire Corp. product planning for commercial truck and bus tires, says fleet mangers should qualify drive tires based on several fundamental factors such as load carrying capacity and routes. “Most, if not all, manufacturers make it clear which tires are intended for linehaul use, and which are for off-road surfaces and will have stone drill prevention and tear resistance features,” he relates.

“When we look at drive tires specifically,” Garcia continues, “some tread patterns have a block design with a high sipe density built into the tread for applications where traction is important. Some tires are built with special angles to combat rock retention and have groove bases with thicker rubber to prevent stone drilling that will otherwise lead to casing damage.”

Garcia also notes that there’s a perception about open shoulder tread designs that fleet managers should understand. “Some operations are asking for a closed shoulder drive tire because they believe open shoulder tires will ultimately suffer irregular wear such as feathering, but that isn’t always the case,” he says. “A well-designed, open shoulder drive tire is an excellent choice where additional on-highway traction is needed.”

Sanjay Nayakwadi, director of product strategy for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO), points out that selecting the right tire for the application, wheel position and haul is critical to performance.

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“Even the best tire in the wrong application or position won’t deliver intended results,” he says. “Regardless, fleets need drive tires with exceptional tread wear performance and retreadability to capitalize on performance potential and maximize uptime.”

“In today’s ultra-competitive trucking environment, no drive tire performance requirement benefit is probably more important than miles to removal,” says Mahesh Kavaturu, marketing manager for long-haul and regional products at Goodyear. “Long haul fleets want to get every possible mile out of their drive tires, as enhanced mileage can positively impact a fleet’s bottom line and optimize its return on investment. When designing commercial truck drive tires, it’s critical to achieve what we call the tire performance triangle to strike the right balance between miles to removal, low rolling resistance and traction.”

For drive tires, the manufacturers note, the past dynamic was such that one performance characteristic—such as miles to removal, fuel efficiency or traction—was optimized while other benefits sometimes took a back seat. Today, by working to minimize tire performance trade-offs, that concern is much less common and fleets can realize optimal, all-around performance by making effective drive tire choices.

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