Testing, Testing 1-2-3

It’s now been a year since the introduction of tyre labels in the European Union and it was interesting to see the results of a recent NTDA – Lanxess survey on this topic. Despite widespread recognition within the tyre trade itself of the new label’s importance, survey results appear to demonstrate that 74% of consumer respondents highlight the tyre price as still being the most critical issue at  the point of purchase.


Maybe in these difficult economic times, we shouldn’t be surprised that the driver looks at the cash in his or her pocket first before selecting a tyre. But even if “John Smith” were to compare tyre labels before making a purchase, what should draw his eyes first? I would suggest the fuel efficiency label rating of the product as it’s the main measure which impacts on the cost of motoring over the long-term. In this respect, many of the so-called ‘value’ tyre brands now obtain ‘C’ or even ‘B’ label grades which are actually not far away from those labels presented by ‘premium’ tyre brands. If this is the case, the tyre label reinforces the opinion that most tyres are of similar fuel-saving quality and if the option is there to buy a tyre 20%, 30% or even 50% below the ‘premium’ price level, then it’s an opportunity to be taken.


Let’s not forget that tyre labels were, in fact, originally intended to support the tyre purchase process in the same way that similar such labels now adorn white goods such as washing machines. The focus was very much on driving energy improvements – in particular to lower the vehicle’s energy absorption / rolling resistance. As the European Commission states on its own website, a typical passenger car driven 25,000 km can save fuel costs of up to £200 per year by choosing the best performing tyres. Interestingly, the Commission goes on to state “as the best performing tyres will be more costly, it is in the second year that you will have net savings”. So even before the labels arrived, the ‘thinking’ was already in place that the consumer would need to spend more on buying ‘premium brand’ tyres to gain savings in the long-term.


But the results haven’t always worked out that way. In fact, many of the premium brand tyres exhibit fuel consumption grades similar to (if not even sometimes worse) than ‘mid range’ or ‘value’ competitors. In a recent UK motoring magazine tyre comparison article, the ‘value’ tyre tested actually topped the rolling resistance section of the test, performing over 25% better than some of its ‘premium’ competitors. That’s some margin!


Let’s also not lose sight of the laudable aims of the tyre label. The aim is to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 4 million tonnes by 2020 – the equivalent of removing up to 1.3 million cars from European roads per year. The end goal is ‘sustainable mobility’ and the reduction of our industry’s carbon footprint. This ‘green’ debate is one that is raging across the globe and tyre makers from the Far East have already grasped the importance of the issue. New ranges have been brought to market with a balanced goal of achieving more or less a ‘C’ grade in both rolling resistance and wet grip criteria. This differs from approaches by some tyre brands which look to maximise wet grip scores to the detriment of rolling resistance grades (E grade or lower).


Of course, the other label criteria of wet grip (and external noise) are also very important. And so too are a wide selection of other tyre tests that don’t make it onto the label – again, for sustainable mobility purposes, surely the lifetime tread wear of the tyre is a worthwhile measurement? But it seems that after the launch fireworks of 1st November 2012, the push for more fuel efficient tyres has been a bit of a damp squib. As the grading is not proving to give a real competitive advantage to some’legacy’ brands, the media focus is being shifted steadily to the ‘wet grip’ argument. What a pity! Not only because of the original intentions of the tyre label but also, as the consumer’s friend, tyre manufacturers need to strive to deliver cost savings for the hard-pressed driver – either directly via attractive pricing, or indirectly via the communication of real long-term fuel saving tyre features.