Tyre Designers Get More Creative
Tyre Designers Get More Creative2/5/2007 10:50:00 AM

Imagine Michelangelo being forced to paint on a surface many times smaller than the actual square footage of the Sistine Chapel.

What if DaVinci’s Mona Lisa was brushed onto a tiny one-foot-square canvas? Or in today’s terms, what would it be like to view the Super Bowl on a small, 9-inch black-and-white television?

In essence, this is the dilemma faced by many tyre designers who create sidewall designs. Their "canvas" is small and dull, and the first requirement of the sidewall is to be functional, rather than artistic.

Paul Maxwell, principal designer for Goodyear, knows this challenge well. He has been sketching tyre designs – freehand and electronically – since the ‘80s, and has witnessed incredible change in tyre technology.

"It’s likely that the average consumer doesn’t understand the degree of sophistication that is engineered into tyres," Maxwell said. "Engineers have to create tyres that can go faster, last longer, handle more stresses from both higher-powered vehicles and consumer abuse, and deal with extreme ranges in temperature and road surfaces.

"And on the appearance end of things, we must make tyres look better at the same time, because the cars to which they're mounted are becoming increasingly more stylish."

These style challenges especially come forward at this time of year – auto show season.

On the Detroit show floor during this year’s North American Auto Show, the company's considerable presence is evident across several automotive manufacturers. Among the show-stopping vehicles outfitted with Goodyear tyres are these 2007 concepts: Jeep Trailhawk, Ford Interceptor and Chrysler Nassau.

So how do designers make a black rubber tyre visually appealing? Tyres are getting thinner in appearance as the diameter of wheels – a component that tyre designers admit is much more stimulating – expands, causing some low-profile performance tyres to appear as large black rubber bands wrapped around flashy silver wheels.

Designers use many tricks of the trade to produce appealing sidewalls. This includes the frequent use of serrated textures that provide a contrast between the raised ridges and smooth areas. This element provides an extra level of detail to the sidewall and allows lighting to give such tyres a different appearance.

It is a practice that some consumers appreciate, while most probably never notice – which is a good thing.

"We admit that most consumers don’t give a second thought to tyre sidewalls. It’s a comparison to an umpire in baseball; if no one even notices the umpire during a game, he’s probably doing a good job," explained Maxwell. "Likewise, if we have done our jobs well, people won’t necessarily notice, but if they do, they see value and distinction."

Design engineers know that minor differences such as a stylized sidewall or distinctive tread pattern can separate a tyre from the pack and make it unique. Sometimes, the style can be drastic enough that the tyre becomes an icon.

In sidewall design, one of the most creative tyres is the Goodyear Fortera SL, which features artistic swirl patterns on the tyre’s sidewall.

In tread design, Goodyear's original Aquatred tyre created a deep, distinctive center groove and the current TripleTred tyres are designed with aggressive, sweeping "Aquachutes" that run directionally outward from the center of the tread.

The tyre also must carry extensive detail according to government regulations – size, speed rating, load rating, date and place of manufacture, maximum inflation pressure and more. Including this information on the sidewall becomes a challenge as the low-profile trend continues.

On most vehicles, a tyre is virtually the only visible component displaying a brand name that is separate from the vehicle manufacturer. It becomes, in essence, a rolling billboard.

Offering assistance to tyre designers in the challenging task of tyre styling are marketing colleagues, tyre retailers and consumer focus groups – all providing valuable feedback.