Monday, March 9, 2015

A day at the proving grounds: Goodyear demonstrates fuel economy and traction

It takes a certain belief, and bravado, for a company to invite the media for an inside look at where the magic happens. What if a demonstration somehow backfires or favors a competitor’s product?

A stopping test put Goodyear against a competitor on wetted,
polished concrete. We were advised not to walk on the
slick surface
The folks at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had no such fear when they opened their doors to media scrutiny in early March during Tire Technology Day at the company’s proving grounds in San Angelo, Texas.

“We bare our souls here each day,” said Frank Payne, Goodyear’s general manager of fleet sales, told the visiting group, which consisted of trucking journalists and a few dozen fleet owners and managers.

The San Angelo Proving Grounds, far and away the company’s largest testing facility, puts 50 to 60 products and 23,000 tires through the paces each year according to proving grounds manager Chris Queen.
Starting line for the coast-down test, with Goodyear on one
truck and competitor tires on the other. Rolling resistance
is one of Goodyear's keys to improving fuel economy.

We were on site to check out how the company’s new Fuel Max LHS steer and Fuel Max LHD G505D drive tires fared on various test tracks and in the shop.

Balancing fuel economy and traction is the name of the game in tire technology. Demonstrations such as the “coast-down” showed how Goodyear’s low rolling resistance stacks up against a competitor. The coast-down test followed a stopping test that pitted the grab of the Fuel Max line against a competitor on wetted, polished concrete.

“There’s an inherent tradeoff between fuel economy and traction,” said Goodyear Product Manager Jason Stine. “The key is to optimize both.”

Finish line for the coast-down test, showing the Goodyear-
equipped truck out-coasting a competitor's tires.
When asked the secret to optimization – because it doesn’t seem logical for a tire to have superior stopping power and low rolling resistance – Stine cracked a smile, saying the secret is closely guarded. He was able to share that it has to do with the chemical compounding and internal tire design that Goodyear works so very hard at.

A road test for fuel economy put Fuel Max tires up against yet another competitor’s product over a 120-mile round trip between San Angelo and Abilene. This test was considered a standard Society of Automotive Engineers Type II test that meets strict standards and is repeated over and over again to generate data.

As with the rolling-resistance and stopping-distance tests, the results of the SAE Type II fuel economy test favored Goodyear – by 3 percent – without the company’s apprehension or fear that it could have gone the other way.

Perhaps the control and test groups were selective, but never once did a demonstration run out of Goodyear’s favor.

This tire had 69 punctures in it and was still
holding at 120 psi.
A two-part demonstration that beckoned for some hands-on by the trucking press was the puncture test. During the first part of the demonstration, Goodyear Brand Manager Norberto Flores showed how tires manufactured with the company’s DuraSeal product built into the casing would stay inflated at drivable psi even when the truck backed over a bunch of nails.

“Sometimes people see they have picked up a nail. They take the truck in and find out they have five, six, seven nails and didn’t even know it,” said Flores after a demonstration driver backed up over three large, protruding nails. Spikes, really.

I had some fun during part two of the puncture test inside one of the buildings. It allowed us to operate a drill press to drive a spike into a tire ourselves. The tire I punctured – twice – contained 67 other punctures according to the readout and was still holding at 120 psi.

The tires we were shown during Tire Technology Day had been in development for two- to three years before hitting the proving grounds. A lot can be said about the engineering, development, materials and claims about a product, but as Goodyear demonstrated, the rubber really meets the road at the proving grounds and on the roadways.