Roughing out Brisbane outback with BFGoodrich

By Lee Pang Seng

THE growing demand for pick-ups and SUVs (sport utility vehicles) in Malaysia reflects the trend in many world markets and this is not lost on BFGoodrich, an American tyre maker. This means the demand for tyres suitable for such vehicles would grow in tandem and there is an opportunity waiting to be tapped.

Perhaps this wasn’t quite the case some five years ago when vehicle owners were only warming up to the appeal of such vehicles, thus leading to BFGoodrich exiting the Malaysian market. Now that the market potential has changed significantly, the American tyre maker is seizing the opportunity to make a comeback, especially when its sound expertise in making off-road tyres can be fully applied.

Its strength in the US is reflected by its successes in the Baja desert marathons, world rally championship and rally raids with its All-Terrain T/A KO. A second-generation series, All-Terrain T/A KO2, has followed suit with improved performance standards to raise the bar further. We had the pleasure of putting this tyre to some challenging conditions in the Brisbane outback earlier this year.

While the All-Terrain T/A KO2 would appeal to those who enjoy taking their 4x4s, mostly pick-ups, to some serious off-roading territory, BFGoodrich has used its expertise in making such tyres to produce a ‘tamer’ range for SUV owners who rarely venture off-road. This is the Advantage T/A, a road tyre range that is targeted at cars as well as SUVs and Crossovers.

Just in case you are curious about all the abbreviations in the tyre names, which are probably necessary to keep the name short while addressing its performance potential, T/A stands for Traction Advantage and KO is said to refer to a loose French term that means ‘all terrain option’.

Incidentally, BFGoodrich comes under the Michelin Group as the company was acquired in 1988. That may explain the French connection in the name though more importantly it offers the American tyre maker an avenue to use the synergy and resources within the group to enter new markets. The Advantage T/A is produced by Michelin in Thailand and its development was done by the French tyre maker based on BFGoodrich’s product guidelines and high standards.

More specifically, that job was undertaken by the Michelin Group in Japan and the development engineer involved was Moribe Kohei. Having been with Michelin for 10 years the Advantage T/A is one of the many tyres he was involved in developing. He says the Advantage T/A would deliver strongly on all performance aspects demanded of it after having put the development tyres through many gruelling tests. He did say the BFGoodrich tyre was slightly harder in ride against the general Michelin range, due to the sidewall design.

Being competitively priced, the BFGoodrich tyres are said to complement the Michelin range in brand options and value. BFGoodrich has its share of tyre history, dating more than 100 years to 1896. Some of its milestones were having its tyres fitted to Columbia Space shuttle in 1981 and introducing the first tubeless tyres for American cars in 1947, first radial tyre in American market called Lifesaver in 1965, first run-flat tyre in 1967 and first 24-inch 4x4 tyre in 2002.
 
Currently, BFGoodrich is extremely proud of its All-Terrain T/A KO2 and what it has to offer in taming wild off-road conditions. In one of its promos, it shows how the tyre, which was fitted on a rim, is dropped from a helicopter a kilometre high and that it could be fitted onto a pick-up after it had landed for immediate use over off-road terrain.

That tyre toughness was summed up by Pierre Azemat, Product Marketing Manager, Southeast Asia & Oceania, who said during the media briefing in Brisbane that the current demand was for even ‘more tough’ tyres and greater traction. BFGoodrich had determined that 84 per cent of all-terrain tyre failures were sidewall related while the higher demand for more tyre traction stemmed from its use on-road, off-road and for towing.

With the development targets set, the All-Terrain T/A KO2 is said to have 20-per cent stronger sidewalls and tread life is doubled on gravel roads but increased by 15 per cent on asphalt. Traction is improved by 10 per cent on muddy terrain and by 19 per cent in snow.

The tougher sidewall is derived from its race-proven Baja T/A KR2 tyre with the Coregard technology; this is clearly noted on the thicker, extended shoulder rubber that extends deep into the critical sidewall failure zone and an Advanced Deflection Design that prevents hazards from snagging and splitting the sidewall, thereby making it less vulnerable.

BFGoodrich says the longer tread life is achieved through specially-formulated tread rubber to provide superior gravel road endurance; advanced tyre footprint shape that distributes stress more evenly to attain more uniform wear longer; stone ejectors to prevent stone retention and drilling; and interlocking tread design to provide tread block stability for an even wear.

It was also specifically mentioned that the tread life was improved through resisting irregular wear from chipping, chunking and tearing of the tread block. In this respect, BFGoodrich says the mass loss of the centre tread area for the KO2 is 2.6 per cent, a reduction from the 6.2 per cent on the KO.

The tyre’s improved mud performance is achieved through the Serrated Shoulder Design, Mud-Phobic Bars and Side Biter Lugs; the first comprises staggered shoulder blocks to provide greater manoeuvrability in soft soil and snow. The second feature is said to release compacted mud from between the tyre treads and enhance traction in muddy and soft soil.

And the third item refers to the tyre pattern on the side that provides better mud, rock and snow traction, especially in certain trying conditions.

The test ‘ground’ for our tyre experience was in a vast cattle farming area interspersed with pockets of jungle growth; formerly called Landcruiser Mountain Park, it is spread over more than 4000 hectares and boasts of more than 200km of off-road trails. Our BFGoodrich adventure only covered about 30km though, taking up a whole day because of the slow speeds going over the demanding terrain.

This area is about a three hours’ drive from Brisbane with one third of the journey over off-road tracks. However, to spare us that ‘torture’, we were flown there in helicopters flying at 120 knots or about 200km/h. The All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres were fitted mostly onto Toyota Hilux, Landcruiser Prado and Fortuner vehicles, with a few Mitsubishi Pajeros joining the pack.

We picked the Fortuner, which was the latest model, for the drive as we were looking for a more comfortable ride. Pierre said the area was chosen for the tyre impression as it often rain during that time of the year. Well, it didn’t rain when we got there and our experience was mostly over bone-dry tracks, except for a short sandy stretch.

An interesting note was that the All-Terrain T/A KO2 tyres were inflated to 40psi or 280kPa. If you compare that to the normal tyre pressure we use for tarmac driving – 28psi or about 200kPa – it is indeed very high. From our experience in past off-road drives, the tyre pressure is usually reduced to make ride more comfortable. However, Pierre said the All-Terrain T/A KO2 worked just fine with high pressures going off-road and it saved the bother of adjusting the pressure when returning to on-road driving.

We have to agree with him as we found the Fortuner no bouncier in ride when going off-road though there was a tendency for this Toyota SUV to skitter somewhat over washboard sections. There was this continuous judder that was not as jolting as it was uncomfortable and we were glad there were not many of such terrain along the way.

There were many areas with deep ruts and rocky sections, complete with sharp and jagged edges that looked menacing and dangerous. We crossed them all, some with guidance to avoid being bogged down or stranded on tall ridges, without the tyre’s tougher wall being damaged. The tyre’s good grip was experienced when we were told to brake halfway down a fairly steep and loose-surface gradient; the All-Terrain T/A KO2 impressed with its tenacious grip as we sat stationary for a while before proceeding down the slope.

It also cleared the sandy stretch with ease; this would have been a water-logged section had it rain as expected. The tyres also showed its grippy prowess when going over deeply rutted sections although one media group in a Fortuner did get stranded on a ridge after failing to clear one of the many sections along the route.

And to see for ourselves if the Mud-Phobic Bars had worked as we had also covered some soft stretches with muddied pools, the tread on the All-Terrain A/T KO2 tyres on our Fortuner were clean. No mud, no stones or grassy turf wedged between the tyre treads. And this appeared to be the case for the tyres on the other vehicles as well. That explained the consistent grip we had enjoyed while taking the Fortuner through the respective terrain and conditions with these BFGoodrich tyres.

This is the impressive base that the Advantage Drive and SUV tyre range is developed on. It should measure up to the ‘tamer’ but no less critical demands expected of the respective tyre. You might like to check out these BFGoodrich tyres the next time you go shopping for new rubbers for your vehicle.

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