Back in October, I was invited to a press event with Goodyear. This marked two pretty cool blogging firsts for me – (1) it was my first overseas trip thanks to the blog, and (2) I was no longer just a blogger, but in fact deemed worthy of the moniker “press” – next stop The Guardian. Anyway, enough self indulgence and wishful thinking.
With an overnight bag, my camera, my driving licence and a sense of giddiness derived from being toddler-free for 36 hours, I made my way to Colmar-Berg in Luxembourg via Heathrow. The Goodyear All Season Press Event was split into two days – day 1 saw us visit the Goodyear Innovation Centre to learn about the technology and innovation behind tyres (in particular, Vector 4Seasons All Season tyres), whilst day 2 allowed us to try the tyres for ourselves as we took to the test track.
This resulted in an interesting, informative and fun two days in Luxembourg, with a surprising appreciation for tyre safety and tyres in general. I’ll be honest, I’ve never really thought about tyres – probably unsurprising for someone who knows very little about cars.
I’m aware that my car has tyres, that there is a minimum tread level and that I’ve had them replaced before, but that’s basically it. I’d given no thought to how a tyre is made, how it grips to the road, how different conditions impact them, what makes a good tyre or what kind of tyre is best in different weathers. I doubt I’m alone in this.
That’s pretty worrying when you think about it – particularly when travelling with your family. The focus is generally on the actual car or things in the car – such as a car seat – but the tyres are what grip to the road. So, along with fellow dad bloggers John (Dad Blog UK), Henry (The Mediocre Dad) and Al (The Dad Network) we explored the gripping (geddit?!) world of tyres. Here’s what we got up to:
Day 1 – Goodyear Innovation Centre Visit
After arriving, registering and having lunch, the tour of the Goodyear Innovation Centre started. First up, we had an informative lecture-style session which included market insights and detailed info about the different Goodyear products – particularly the Vector 4Seasons tyre. This was genuinely fascinating and I learnt so much. I’m going to sound like a tyre geek now so I’ll keep it short(ish).
Basically, Europe’s weather conditions vary greatly, with big differences between cities. For instance, Hamburg has 70 days per year with sub-zero temperatures compared to just six in Santander, whilst it rains twice as much in Antwerp when compared to Milan (200 vs 100 wet days per year). Because of this change in weather, in severe winter climates, drivers often use summer tyres in summer, then switch to winter tyres in winter.
In other places where there are moderate winter climates, drivers tend to stay with summer tyres all year round – this is very typical of the UK. What this means is that the tyres we use during the colder months aren’t actually designed to optimally deal with rain, ice and snow. Sure, they still do a decent job, but you’re more likely to loose grip if you don’t have the right tyre. That’s worrying when it’s you and your family in the car. Stat alert – more than 80% of accidents in winter happen due to the lack of grip on wet roads!
To compare it to football, it’s like changing your boots or studs depending on the surface you’re playing on. You wouldn’t wear trainers on a wet grass pitch, or conical studs if having a kickabout on the street – well, unless you want to potentially injure yourself or have a bad performance. The same goes for tyres. I knew none of this – I just assumed the tyres I had on my car were good all year round and not just designed for better weather.
There is an alternative tyre though called All Season tyres – as an example, the Goodyear Vector 4Seasons Gen-2 tyre which was launched in 2015. As the name suggests, these are designed to be used all year round in all weather conditions.
These type of tyre perform optimally in poor conditions (snow, ice and rain), reduce breaking distances massively and provide a more budget-friendly solution to summer and winter tyres. For example, the Vector 4Seasons tread has small, connected blocks and a wide cavity for winter performance, hydrodynamic grooves for wet performance and 3D sipes for dry performance.
I’d not heard of these type of tyres before (unsurprisingly), but I left the room wondering why they are not standard on cars in the UK. When they have been tested and proved to perform so much better in poor conditions than summer tyres, it seems odd to me that cars come with summer tyres as standard.
Anyway, that’s enough background. You may know that already, or, like me, this may be surprising. Either way, let’s move on. We were split into groups and led around different parts of the Innovation Centre. First up was the Snow Lab – a -25ºC room made from large shipping containers. This saw us don a rather fetching wooly hat and hi-viz jacket combo before entering the cold world before us.
It turns out that, in here, Goodyear actually make their own snowflakes with a snazzy machine, which can then be turned into different kinds of snow and ice in order to test tyres. We were able to take a look in this machine to see it being made, then allowed to test out how a summer tyre and an All Season tyre reacted to these snowy surfaces. Interesting stuff.
After this, we made our way to the Material Science lab. Another stat alert – did you know that a modern tyre consists of roughly 25 different components? I assumed it was just rubber, but inside you actually have stuff like metal, rayon, nylon, polyester and Kevlar. So, you know, if you’re ever in a situation where you might be shot, stick a tyre around your chest and you’ll be fine.
In here, we saw how they’re continually improving and innovating when it comes the make up of a tyre. With loads more snazzy machines, they look at different combinations of what goes into a tyre in order to make it better – be it things like safety or durability. This includes testing the breaking point of different combinations of threads, plus also using an x-ray machine to recreate 2D and 3D models of materials for analysis. Proper sciencey stuff.
Next, we headed over to the Design Studio which was really fascinating. There’s no scientists here, just a few creative souls who like coming up with new and wacky ideas. They’re focus is really on what tyres will be like in the future – what will they look like and what will they do. This includes thinking about the modular car of the future which might be on a spherical tyre, the next generation of All Season tyre with improved tread and a smart chip, or tyres that automatically inflate and deflate in different areas based on the weather condition.
We also learnt – and saw – that the tread on tyres is designed by hand. Literally, a fella sitting there with some felt tip pens. This is then transferred onto computer software, before the actual tyre mould is created. Although part of the Design Studio is for concept cars and to show how pretty you can make a tyre, they’re undoubtedly doing an important role in identifying and implementing future trends and tech.
Our final stop was the Physical Lab. Here, we were shown how they go about making the actual tyre and told that it’s not dissimilar to making a cake. Obviously I’d not want to stick silica, wax, sulfur, zincoxide, carbon black and rubber into a cake, but it seems to work for the guys at Goodyear. Like a cake, they basically stuck all of the ingredients into a huge mixer, heated it up and rolled it out.
They then showed a few tests that they conduct – such as a bounce test and a slide test – to demonstrate the differences between tyres and how they react. Again, just like all of the other areas, the team is constantly looking to improve and innovate as they test different ‘recipes’ to make the tyre.
I kid you not, this was really interesting to see. I left the Goodyear Innovation Centre with a knowledge and appreciation for what goes into the creation of tyres, plus an awareness of just how important they are to car safety and maintenance.
Day 2 – On The Test Track
After a nice meal and no interruptions during the night due to an absent toddler, we boarded a bus and headed to a test track called Centre De Formation Pour Conducteurs. As a side note, every person who does their driving test in Luxembourg has to visit this place to undergo bad-weather driving assessments – what a fantastic idea. Anyway, back to us and our day of driving.
After learning all about tyres the previous day, today was our chance to try them for ourselves and experience the difference between summer tyres and All Season tyres. There were three different activities – (1) breaking and slalom, (2) skid pan, and (3) uphill and downhill. Having not done anything like this before, I was pretty psyched about doing my best Jeremy Clarkson impression behind the wheel.
Our first activity was the breaking and slalom, which took place on a soaking wet epoxy surface with two Audi Q2s – one fitted with summer tyres and the other fitted with, you’ve guessed it, All Season tyres. The idea was to (1) drive at around 35mph, hit the breaks when on the epoxy surface, then see what happened, and (2) weave between the cones on the expoxy surface and see what happened.
The results really were incredible – check out the video above. With the All Season tyres, the car came to a pretty quick stop, but with the summer tyres, the car travelled over double the distance as the tyres struggled to grip onto the wet surface. It was a similar story with the slalom – the All Season tyres nicely gripped to the surface and made it comfortably in between the cones, whereas the summer tyres struggled to grip as the car slid.
Next up was the skid pan, which is designed to simulate losing control of the back of the car when driving. You trundle along between 35 and 45mph, then a metal plate on the floor suddenly moves when the back tyres hit it – this forces the car into a spin. The idea is therefore to show how well the All Season tyres react in this condition, but also to give you experience of what to do if your car is out of control – all whilst being in a safe environment.
What you’re supposed to do – which I didn’t manage – is to turn into the spin, thus righting the car and allowing it to continue forward. Even though you’re expecting it, you don’t know which way you have to turn, and in that split second, I just couldn’t figure it out – just imagine that happening on a road when you’re not expecting it.
If you can’t keep driving forward with the tyres gripping to the road, the best thing to do is apply the breaks and come to a stop – again the All Season tyres help massively here. Luckily, I’ve not had to experience this when driving on a proper road, but I am very confident in saying that it would be so difficult to handle with summer tyres – hence why we didn’t use them here!
The final driving experience was the uphill and downhill. Again, we had two separate cars for this – one with summer tyres and one with All Season tyres. The idea was to drive down the hill at 30mph, go around a hairpin bend, stop on the hill, then do a hill start. Having already experienced the Vector 4Seasons tyres in action, I had a sneaky feeling that they would perform much better than the summer tyres.
And, obviously, they did. The All Season tyres gripped the road as you went downhill, as you braked, and as you turned back on yourself. Then, on the hill start, it found grip straight away and allowed you to slowly accelerate up the hill. Although the summer tyres made it down and up, there was literally no grip as you braked and turned. It was similar for the hill start – difficult to find grip without over-revving the engine and the real possibility of going back on yourself.
Having learnt about the tyres the previous day, it was great to get out onto the track and try them for ourselves. The theory is interesting, but the proof really is in the pudding and you’ll not appreciate how different tyres affect the car until you’ve tried it.
It was an informative and fun trip, plus I now have a knowledge of tyres which would do me well on Mastermind. Most importantly though, I’m now well aware of the importance of tyres and tyre safety – something which I now feel strongly that more of us should know.
Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Goodyear.