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Wednesday, April 09, 2008
New Snow Tires to Offer Safe Driving Without Roadway Damage
Studded tires work best on snowy and icy roads, but they cause serious damage across the nation when roads are dry. Now manufacturers of a new type of winter tire think they've solved the problem.
When the driver flicks a switch inside the car, Q Tires' retractable studs emerge. When the snow and ice melt, another flip of the switch causes tires to transformed again, as the studs fold back under the treads.
Michael O'Brien, the company's founder, probably never gave much thought to winter tires while growing up in southern California. But after marrying and moving to the Midwest, he soon grew tired of the exhausting chore of putting the chains on the tires and taking them off.
About five years ago, O'Brien conceived the retractable studded tire idea, and then developed a prototype. Sean Chariker, the company's marketing director, said that the South Carolina-based company had raised $8.8 million to cover startup costs, much of it from individual wealthy investors.
The company believes its attention-gripping brand name conjures James Bond's gadget master, Q, and the spiked tires make people think of the ones that gave Bond's Aston Martin extra traction in Die Another Day.
"It's a product which like so many in this country was invented by someone who said, 'By God, there's got to be a better way,'" offered company spokesman Bruce Starr.
Q Celsius, the company’s first newfangled tire, is expected to be in test markets this summer, followed by a broader year-end product rollout.
Before that happens, company officials have been visiting northern states like Maine to make certain their product adheres to state rules and regulations.
Some northern states have laws that prohibit studded tires between spring and fall, and that's a problem. Maine's law is currently written to prohibit tires with retractable studs during the warmer months. Recently, Maine Senator Bill Diamond submitted a bill that would amend the law.
Describing the tires as "a little bit James Bond-ish," Diamond let his awe with the new product show when he entered his bill to allow the retractable studded tires year-round.
"It's the most interesting bill I've presented," he said. Recently, the bill rolled through the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci.
While visiting Maine's State House to tout Diamond's bill, Starr pointed out that laws were passed last year in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Montana. Neither New Hampshire nor Vermont has laws against off-season studded tires, so they are no worry for the company in New England, he said.
Q Tires are just like conventional tires, except that a wireless signal is used to trigger an air chamber inside the tire that makes the studs appear. The company said they could be repaired at any tire dealer with a plug or patch.
Q Tires, not affiliated with any major tire manufacturer, are still relatively unknown within the tire industry. Individuals from several organizations that deal with tire safety, technology and marketing listened intently as it was being described, and later said they had not heard of the company.
"As far as I know, there is no other company working on similar technology," Rohlwing, whose group represents all segments of the tire industry, said.
According to Bob Ulrich from trade magazine Modern Tire Dealer, about 5 million winter tires were shipped in the U.S. in 2007, and that figure was expected to grow in 2008.
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