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Goodyear Concept Tires Loom Large at Detroit Auto Show

DETROIT, Jan. 8, 2002 -- Goodyear's concept tire showing is massive at the North American International Auto Show here. Literally. The company's rim diameters at this show range from 17 to 22 inches; tread section widths spread up to 315 mm, or more than a foot wide. "These works of art are larger than life," according to Bill Egan, chief engineer of advanced product technology, "or at least, they seem to be. Bigger is better in Detroit."

Take Ford's Mighty F-350 Tonka concept truck, which sports six huge Goodyear 22-inch hand-carved tires. More than 4 feet of tread width keep the truck rear planted firmly on the pavement.

Ford Mighty F-350 Tonka
Ford Mighty F-350 Tonka

The Tonka LT315/60R22 tires "certainly look the part. Blocky, yet aesthetically pleasing, tread elements and aggressive shoulder styling accentuate the image portrayed by this Goliath-sized toy truck," Egan said.

Yet the mighty Ford is a hybrid, of sorts. The F-350 prototype stores recaptured braking energy hydraulically for significant fuel economy improvements.

On the Detroit show floor, Goodyear's considerable presence is evident across several automotive manufacturers. Egan said 19-inch run-flat concept tires reflect the future, despite the history evident in a concept Chevrolet Bel Air.

The Bel Air, evocative of the wildly popular 1955, '56 and '57 Chevys, refuses the retro label. "It possess a heritage of exciting designs and performance, while its concept tires look to the future," Egan said.

With nearly 50 run-flat tire programs underway worldwide, Goodyear hints that run-flat tires will change the tire and automotive industries. Egan said the federal Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act might drive run-flat tire development.

The act mandates new safety standards for tires, including the installation of pressure-monitoring systems by 2003. The systems are required when run-flat tires are used.

The Bel Air concept was designed from the same brand group that spawned the Chevrolet SSR roadster pickup. General Motors selected Goodyear to develop massive asymmetric performance tires for the innovative SSR specialty vehicle that goes into production in late 2002.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Goodyear originally developed concept tires -- featuring Chevrolet's bow-tie icon in the tread pattern -- for the SSR concept vehicle shown here at the 2000 show.

Goodyear engineers still are fine-tuning the super-wide Eagle RS-A performance tires in P255/45R19 (front) and P295/40R20 (rear) to propel the V-8-powered production vehicle.

"Concept tire development is important, because it allows us to contribute to automotive design trends that soon may be coming down the road. Communication between the automaker and tiremaker is paramount to keeping image and messages consistent through design," Egan added.

Production vehicles reflect the trend of large-diameter concept tires. "Larger tires allow vehicle designers to make stylized wheels part of the package. In addition, larger brakes can be engineered for improved stopping capability," he said.

Tires really are a work of art. Sidewall design can remain "minimalist to reflect the simple, chiseled lines of the Dodge M80 concept vehicle. Yet they only slightly hide the beautiful, clean tread design of the P265/50R20 concept tires," he said.

Dodge M80
Dodge M80

The Dodge Razor and its 19- and 20-inch tires are another back-to-basics design. Talk about clean design: the orange coupe doesn't even offer a trunk lid.

In other cases, stylized sidewalls may be equally as important as a rugged treadface, particularly when fitted on Jeep concepts.

Consider the green-striped 21-inch concepts on the Jeep Willys2 reprisal of last year's Willys concept. Or Goodyear's most durable off-road tire -- the Wrangler MT/R LT245/75R16 -- fitted on the 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the ultimate factory off-roader shown here Monday.

Jeep Willys 2
Jeep Willys 2

And then, sometimes, concept tires make an impact that stand out in a crowd, Egan said. Ford's GT40 retro-rocket features P245/45R18 concept tires (front) and P285/45R19 (rear) -- and an ultra-performance tread design.

The modern-day version of its legendary GT40 racecar is powered by a 500- horsepower supercharged V-8. The original GT40 finished in the top three positions at the 1966 24 Hours at LeMans, and it remained a dominant force for the decade.

The concept tires on today's GT40, Egan said, are hard to miss. The gold-lettered words "Goodyear Eagle" emblazon the sidewalls.



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