Why is that? As fleet managers, safety is an issue, but does safety just extend to making sure tyres are legal? In dry conditions, that may be acceptable, but in the wet the answer has to be no. There's a lot more to it than that.
Always interested, but never an expert, I thought there were enough tyres on the market to cover all eventualities. Goodyear, the world's largest tyre company, had other ideas and has just launched a new tyre, HydraGrip, a summer tyre developed for rainy and wet conditions.
Research has shown that many European cities see 100 days of rain per year, while drivers average 141 days a year on wet roads.
Sizes available range from 14 inch (185) to 16 inch (205) and fit the majority of family or high-performance cars, with either a 210kph or 240kph speed rating.
Goodyear claims it is the best tyre in wet conditions. The main characteristics that make a tyre good in the wet are short braking distance, stable and predictable cornering and resistance to aquaplaning. It is important that tyres perform well in dry conditions too, which means good feel and handling, fuel economy, low noise and general resistance to wear.
At the Goodyear facility, which consists of a mile-long high-tech wet handling circuit and a two-mile dry-handling circuit, the tests and demonstrations are all about comparisons.
Using identical cars, HydraGrip and its two closest contenders in the market, Continental's Premium Contact and Michelin's Exalto, were put to the test.
My introduction to the product was a demonstration with aquaplaning, which is when a vehicle hits a sheet of standing water at speed, momentarily losing steering control and sensation while the tyres struggle to regain their grip. In the worst cases, you can lose complete control of the vehicle.
For the demonstration, cars are driven around a dry circular section of the track, with a huge 8mm-deep puddle. With the tracks clearly visible in the water, it was easy to understand how the tyres were performing. All three coped well at low speeds but as speeds increased, the cars slid progressively further from their intended paths and the superiority of the HydraGrip, while not dramatic, became clear.
The next test, wet braking under controlled conditions, was perhaps the most quantifiably impressive.
On a straight section of track, again flooded to 8mm, which is about the equivalent to a road surface in a thunder-storm, the HydraGrip stopped a whole car length shorter than the nearest rival from 50mph.
The next test involved appraising tyres worn down to 3mm tread depth, which is almost at the end of the useful life for any tyre, and is a good indication of how they are going to perform in real life.
On worn tyres, the difference in stopping distances became even more marked. HydraGrip performance only deteriorated slightly, while the Continental and Michelin had long since given up trying to grip.
General handling on the winding wet track did not show such a marked difference between the brands, although the HydraGrip-shod car did behave better and regained control with more dignity when I pushed the car a little bit too hard. Grip like this in the wet is very impressive.
The secret behind the tyre is a combination of DynamicDrain TRED, Goodyear's patented 3 Dimensional Block Interlocking System technology and special silicone compounds.
On a practical front, HydraGrip sits at around the same price level as its competitors and has comparable mileage expectations too.
Michelin aims new tyres at fleet market
MICHELIN is targeting fleets with a revamped range covering high-mileage and sporting fleet cars. Many fleets are familiar with the Energy car tyre range, developed specifically with business motorists in mind and launched in 2003.
A new model has now been launched, offering reduced fuel consumption, an increase in tyre life and improved grip and handling under all driving conditions compared with its predecessor.
To improve wet and dry road grip, Michelin has developed a new tread pattern to give better handling.
Braking distances in the wet are reduced and it also lasts longer, thanks to two additional metallic plies under the tread to increase rigidity.
A new rubber compound which contributes to enhanced grip and reduced rolling resistance has also been added.
The new Michelin Energy range is available in 43 sizes from 13-inch to 16-inch and in 'T', 'H' and 'V' speed ratings.
Michelin has also launched the new Pilot Exalto, drawing on its expertise gained in motorsport to further strengthen its high-performance tyre range.
Designed for hot hatches, coupes and convertibles, this new tyre offers improved grip levels and longer tread life.
Michelin fleet sales manager Peter Philpott said: 'This tyre follows in the footsteps of the latest generation of Michelin Energy tyres by delivering the high mileages and cost effectiveness demanded by fleet managers.
Michelin tops JD Power tyre survey
Michelin has been rated highest in an original equipment tyre customer satisfaction survey for the sixth consecutive year, according to JD Power and Associates.
The UK Original Equipment Tyre Customer Satisfaction Index Study, which measures customer satisfaction with the tyres equipped on new vehicles at the time of purchase, identifies five factors that contribute to overall tyre satisfaction (in order of importance): quality and durability, appearance, traction, ride and handling and fuel economy.
The tyre industry's overall standing with drivers has improved slightly on 2002 – up six points over 2002, with improvements demonstrated in tyre quality and durability and traction.
A staggering 31% of respondents claimed to have had problems with their tyres in the past year, with 58% of those experiencing road damage problems, while 29% claimed fast or uneven tyre wear.
Patricia Hogan, director of UK tyre studies at JD Power, said: 'While vehicle owners don't choose the tyres that are equipped on their new vehicles, the impression those tyres make on consumers has a direct impact on their perceptions of the brand and, even more critically, on whether they stay loyal to the brand when it's time to replace the original tyres.'
According to JD Power: 'Michelin ranks highest in the study with very strong performances in all factors contributing to overall satisfaction. Michelin performs particularly well in quality and durability, the measure that comprises nearly half the weight of the overall index (46%). Michelin customers are most likely to express definite intentions to repurchase and to recommend the brand to friends and family.'
The 2003 UK Original Equipment Tyre Customer Satisfaction Study evaluated the opinions of 2,931 UK motorists who have owned their vehicles for an average of two and a half years.
Firestone launches LCV special
FIRESTONE has launched a new tyre for light commercial vehicles that will be introduced throughout Europe from April. The Vanhawk will progressively replace the current CV3000 and offers wider tread, with improved wear life and road grip. It is also designed to give improved performance in the wet and dry. The launch reflects growth in commercial vehicle tyre sales across Europe of 21% since 1997 to more than 8.4 million units in 2002.