Why Michelin's hi-tech treads for super SUVs are gripping stuff

Michelin's new tyre for SUVs cuts carbon emissions and hugs the track, says Alex Grant

We live in a confused world. Despite car manufacturers moving towards greener technology and the SUV becoming ever more demonised (and taxed), buyers are increasingly ditching the traditional family car in favour of an off-road vehicle. And despite vocal opposition, the trend is set to continue, with the global population of 4x4s by 2011 expected to be double what it was in 2001.

So, love them or loathe them, they're here to stay. This presents a wealth of challenges for the automotive industry, especially those responsible for keeping these gargantuan machines glued to the black stuff; the tyre makers. Michelin is the latest to try its luck at defying the laws of physics: the new Latitude 4x4 tyre range promises much.

It is no small task. SUVs are heavy vehicles that put a huge amount of stress on their tyres, so the rubber needs to be strong. It also needs to be able to hang on to the road in all conditions and, unlike a conventional car tyre, be able to withstand heavy off-road abuse just in case the owner feels the urge to get their alloy wheels dirty.

As if all this weren't enough, an SUV tyre needs to last like a car tyre. There's no room for compromise, and Michelin claims to have solved the problem with its Latitude Tour HP.

The name "Latitude" perhaps doesn't translate as well into English as Michelin expects - in the sense of freedom to explore. But the message is nevertheless clear, this is a tyre made for adventure, for touring the world and for coping with whatever you can throw at it. The people at Michelin have done their homework, too, finding out exactly what customers want from an SUV tyre before spending three years working on new technology to meet those needs.

The tyre, says Michelin, is durable yet safe, thanks to a unique compound that reduces rolling resistance, and thus fuel consumption and carbon emissions. It's, also, says the company, comfortable yet stable, thanks to deep, locking tread sipes. And it's stiff and precise, yet supple enough to deform for the best contact patch. All this new technology sounds great on paper, but what's most impressive is that it actually works. On the toughest off-road conditions, the Tour HP gives just the right feedback to keep the driver informed, while its wet Tarmac performance is a quantum leap forward compared with its predecessor, the Michelin MXV4+. It performs well.

Of course, the SUV market is just beginning to diversify, with the arrival of a somewhat bizarre new breed. It's not so long ago that a high-performance off-road vehicle outside the Paris-Dakar rally would be as likely as a sumo wrestler winning a 100-metre sprint. It's not the most logical pairing of ideas but, as Porsche has proved with the mighty Cayenne, it's possible to hit the mark without completely compromising the vehicle's off-road ability.

Central to this is tyre choice, and with a 47-year history of co-development, Michelin was the obvious choice when developing a tyre for the 2007 Cayenne.

The Latitude Sport, which will be factory equipment on the new model and other performance SUVs, is the result of a close partnership between the two companies. The Cayenne is a surprisingly confident car around a tight Tarmac track, even with the Latitude's predecessor, but with the new tyre it's quite staggering.

Steering response is far smoother and roadholding is dramatically improved, with enough grip on offer to instil the slightest fear that the Cayenne's weight would simply rip up chunks of Tarmac while cornering. Like the Porsche itself, the Latitude Sport marks a successful fusion between technology aimed at epic on-road performance and 4x4 strength.

As SUV sales continue to boom, it's reassuring to see new technology fighting to keep up with the unusual demands placed on the vehicles.

Michelin has met a difficult brief with the Latitude range, producing an uncompromising new tyre fit for a uncompromising new market. And, whether you agree with the rise of the sports utility vehicle or not, it's quite an achievement.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam