For nearly 150 years, Pirelli has established itself as a leading tyre manufacturer for high-performance cars and motorcycles. An ever-expanding customer base, coupled with strong R&D credentials has ensured that the company continues to set new benchmarks in tyre development. Auto Tech Review met Sanjay Mathur, General Manager, India, Pirelli Tyre (Suisse) S.A., to understand global requirements and latest developments in tyre technology.
DOMESTIC MARKET REQUIREMENTS
Pirelli has been the largest supplier of speciality tyres for performance machines across global markets, for leading supercar and superbike manufacturers. In India, the categories might differ, but we follow the European standards globally, said Mathur. In the domestic market, the ultra-high-performance segment is in a nascent stage, which means low volumes. Depending upon the demand over the years, numbers are expected to go up, which also applies to high-performance players. Both of these segments combined are growing steadily – it is a small market, but since we are the largest players in these segments, we see a lot of scope for improvement, said Mathur.
Pirelli has managed to retain its number one position due to OEM homologations. It means the tyres fitted on a high or ultra-high-performance vehicle are part of the entire product homologation process. The fact that the biggest car brands globally come with our tyres confers authenticity upon our products and assures customers of a certain degree of trust, added Mathur.
Global brands are very particular about the products their cars come equipped with, as they have undergone rigorous R&D and testing procedures before a particular tyre being approved. With an increase in purchasing power, aspirational values increase and this ensures that our margins are met consistently. Pirelli does not engage in price wars, as there is a certain perception of quality, which accompanies a premium product, said Mathur.
Pirelli spends the largest percentage of its sales revenues on R&D worldwide — around 3.5 % of its annual turnover. For the ultra-high-performance segment, this number goes up to 6 %. This is done to stay in sync with developments happening in such vehicles, with OEMs introducing new technology very frequently. Customers are also becoming brand-conscious while making purchasing decisions and this also extends to the brand of tyres, which comes as OE fitment.
For all the power and technology enhancements going into a vehicle, the tyre is the final point of a vehicle’s contact with the road, and should hence manifest all the virtues of a high-end vehicle, providing a better ownership experience to the customer. It takes around three years to develop a tyre for one model of a high-performance car, which adds to the responsibility to provide quality.
A key achievement by Pirelli’s engineers in Germany is a reduction in rolling resistance due to the use of patented new-generation materials. This has been achieved over the years without compromising dry and wet grip levels, to guarantee high levels of driving safety. The new technology has also led to an increase in tyre life by around 10 %.
NEW MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT
Across most markets where Pirelli operates, material development and innovation takes place through advanced processing of raw materials. Our patents ensure that we maintain the lead in this aspect of tyre technology. Certain modifications and developments take place on account of government policies, while others occur due to a natural progression witnessed by OEMs in the path of product quality enhancements, said Mathur.
Currently in Europe, Euro VI emissions norms are prevalent. This mandates the implementation of green technology, which means low NVH levels, longer shelf life, better grip on wet roads and lower fuel consumption due to reduced friction in real-world driving conditions. These norms also require a tyre manufacturer to refrain from using aromatic oil, which is made from crude or crude derivatives.
In order to provide better grip on wet roads, Pirelli has changed the key material from Carbon Black to Silica. Carbon Black is a derivative of burning oil, where the soot from the process is used in tyre making. The use of Silica does not allow tyre temperatures to fluctuate drastically, and also improves tyre grip, owing to certain inherent properties of Silica. As a preferred raw material, Silica is 25-30 % more expensive compared to Carbon Black, but brings multiple advantages with it.
With upcoming BS VI norms, tyre manufacturers will have to adhere to revised guidelines and a key improvement will be the use of more eco-friendly materials. Low rolling resistance is one factor that determines how eco-friendly a tyre might be. If a tyre is able to roll further without making the engine work harder (and hence consuming more fuel), it is deemed a ‘green’ product. Thus, low rolling resistance, without compromising grip, is ideal for high-performance tyres.
The month of August has been a record month for Pirelli as there have been 110 new homologations for its tyres globally. Many of the new cars launched at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show were shod with Pirelli rubber as original equipment. In fact, Pirelli’s engineers even developed special, exclusive tyres for the new Bentley Continental GT, so as to allow the car to exploit all its performance advantages.
Pirelli currently has over 5,000 patents in tyre technology. Many of its manufacturing facilities make efficient use of high-tech robotics, which facilitates the production of small batches of highly specialised tyres that customer can purchase from the Pirelli shopfloor itself. This was part of the company’s commitment towards the ultra-high-performance car segment, thereby making Pirelli a top choice for high-end European car brands. In the coming years, Pirelli will continue to stick to its high-performance product ethos for global markets, including India.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley