Latest UHP tire delivers superior grip and handling in all weathers while offering maximum durability and longevity.
Tire industry professionals know full well that in most cases, replacement rubber is often viewed as a grudge purchase by many consumers. That said, with the tire providing the only point of contact between the vehicle and the road (under normal circumstances at least!), the product they ultimately select for their vehicle can make all the difference when it comes to their vehicle ownership experience, whether it’s a regular sedan, sports coupe, light truck or SUV/CUV.
In the North American market, there are some factors that make that tire choice particularly significant. First, is the distance many of us drive from one place to another, which means tires need to last. The second is weather. In Canada and the U.S., we experience just about every type of climatic condition imaginable, which means that our customers want tires that can perform as best as possible in all conditions. Thirdly, with our vehicle market heavily skewered toward light trucks and SUVs, having a tire that properly complements the characteristics of these vehicles, including weight, centre of gravity and handling is paramount to success for the tire, its manufacturer, retailer, motorist, and vehicle OEM.
Balancing value and performance
In the premium market, Pirelli is traditionally known for its performance-oriented offerings, which come as standard fitment on many high-end exotics and sports cars. Pirelli’s extensive motorsport experience has translated into some of the most capable and best-performing tires in the passenger vehicle market. Yet, in today’s marketplace, with many consumers focused on value (due to the current economic environment of higher inflation and interest rates), the ability to deliver a product that balances that value with safety, durability and performance is a winning proposition.
During a special launch event at Las Vegas, for the new all-season P ZERO AS Plus 3, Pirelli North America President & CEO Claudio Zanardo, talked about those very concepts, noting that 71% of the company’s revenues come from what is deemed “high value” tires, where not only cost—but durability, safety and performance [collectively] are key factors in the purchase process.
The value segment is highly competitive and, for manufacturers like Pirelli, as well as tire retailers and ultimately their customers, the ability to offer something different [that stands out from the herd] is hugely significant.
The P ZERO AS Plus 3 is a good example. Completing the lineup of Pirelli’s P ZERO tires in North America, the AS Plus 3—as its name suggests—is designed to blend the performance attributes of the legendary P ZERO, with the durability and comfort of the Pirelli “Plus” tire range.
A true UHP tire
Specifically developed for the North American market, the P ZERO AS Plus 3 is by all accounts, a true ultra-high-performance tire and something that’s likely to appeal to those who drive vehicles such as the late-model BMW 3-Series, Ford Mustang, Genesis G80, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, as well as sports cars like the BMW Z4 and Toyota GR Supra.
In fact, Autosphere had the opportunity to put a P ZERO AS Plus 3 equipped Toyota GR Supra through its paces on the Inside Road Course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a flat, highly technical 1.1-mile (1.8km) course with nine turns that gives the chance for drivers to fully exploit the handling and driving characteristics of production cars like this.
In a performance car, you want high levels of grip to inspire confidence both on the road and on the track. Traditionally, that meant going with softer compounds, designed to maximize contact with tarmac, though often at the expense of durability, meaning in everyday street driving, these sticky, high-performance tires tended to wear out faster.
The P ZERO AS Plus 3 features a completely new tread design, and new construction that incorporates functionalized polymers. The result is an ultra-high-performance tire that really sticks to the road surface, providing the traction and cornering stability you both need and expect in a high-performance vehicle, but yet, one that doesn’t sacrifice ride quality. Chucking the Supra about for multiple laps revealed ever more confidence in pushing the envelope. Turn the wheel and you instantly feel the tires communicating through the car’s steering. Throttle steer is something owners and drivers of high-performance rear-drive cars live for, yet it’s often tricky to master properly.
We had the opportunity to try it out in a GR Supra. The result, even on the track, was the ability to slide the car controllably through the corners with ease and the more laps we did, the more we craved the ability to “dance” the car as we negotiated the turns.
In today’s marketplace, many consumers are both cost and environmentally conscious. Pirelli has taken significant steps to ensure that environmental sustainability is at the heart of everything the company does, including R&D, manufacturing, delivery and even vehicle fitment. “Every touch point and the entire supply chain is where we are focused on sustainability,” explains Claudio Zanardo. Indeed, Pirelli’s goal is to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2030 and utilize 100% renewable electricity by 2025. Big goals, for sure, but ones to which Pirelli is edging ever closer in a practical and economically sustainable fashion.
Manufacturing truly sustainable tires is no easy feat, but Pirelli is clearly demonstrating that by pushing the envelope when it comes to new manufacturing processes and new technology.
Ian Coke, Chief Technical Officer for Pirelli in North America, explains that Pirelli has been able to conduct very extensive modelling of tire wear characteristics, using its motorsport activities as a benchmark and then under lab conditions, optimizing the tire tread to see how it performs and reacts to the road in terms of pressure points. These simulations, which show how energy is dissipated from the tire to the road surface allow engineers to use that data to optimize the tire’s footprint. “This enables us to get a more even wear and efficient wear of the tread pattern,” says Coke. The result is less abrasion and fewer particulates—important considerations in today’s marketplace. The tread compound developed for the AS Plus 3—using liquid soluble polymers—also allows for reduced wear, improved wet weather and lower temperature performance, as well as better rolling resistance—which translates into greater fuel efficiency, which means lower vehicle emissions.
Sustainability also factors into the AS Plus 3’s longevity. Pirelli offers a 50,000-mile (80,000 km) limited warranty on this tire, which for a UHP offering, is virtually unprecedented. This is made possible by the unique tread design and 3D sipe technology which allows for even wear throughout the lifecycle of the tire—meaning that it consistently performs the same—whether it has 30 km under its belt or 30,000. Coke also points to research data which shows that even at its half-life stage, the P ZERO AS Plus 3 still delivers 99% of the efficiency it has when brand-new. This represents a 20% improvement over its predecessor, which performed at 82% when down to 4/32nds of tread.
What’s also interesting is that traditionally, as tires wear, so does their ability to dissipate rain and snow through the sipes. Pirelli’s 3D sipe technology employed on the AS Plus 3, enables the sipes to grow as the tread wears, an important consideration for end customers that drive in more severe weather conditions including rain and snow. “As the tire wears, you’re getting more of the edge opening up and that allows the sipe to trap that snow, giving the same performance,” explains Coke.
While at the launch event, Andre Oosthuizen, Pirelli’s Chief Marketing Officer, North America provided us with an update on some of the marketing trends happening in our region as they relate to consumer behaviour and tire demand.
Oosthuizen notes that while Pirelli’s range of products doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone, discerning customers who know what they want and demand exceptional performance and quality, tend to rank the brand at the top of the list when it comes to shopping for tires.
Good examples include a strong resonance among buyers and owners of high-end vehicles from Lamborghinis and McLarens; to Porsches and Maseratis—particularly in the 18- and 19-inch wheel segments, where Pirelli currently has more than 1,000 different OEM homologations. There have also been significant and consistent in-roads when it comes to the premium vehicle marketplace, dominated by brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jaguar Land Rover.
In terms of trends, Oosthuizen explains that luxury and premium demand for tires has shown signs of recovering more quickly following the COVID-19 pandemic, though projections show that it will likely take longer for volume sales to recover to pre-pandemic levels and it could possibly be the end of the decade when we see that happening—something for tire retailers in both Canada and the U.S. to consider.
Pirelli has made some huge strides in its commitment to the North American market and continues to expand its state-of-the-art production facility in Silao, Mexico. Combined with its Modular Integrated Robotized System (MIRS) facility, R&D centre and North American headquarters located in Rome, Georgia, the focus on producing specific products in North America for the North American consumer is likely to pay dividends in the months and years ahead, especially as demand for premium performance and quality tires to continues to grow, both at the OE and aftermarket level.