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Sean Phillips


By January 10, 2012

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No sooner do I finish my list of the best new tires for 2012, but I see that Michelin North America's Chairman and President Pete Selleck has given a speech at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit introducing the brand-new Michelin Defender. I should have known Michelin would have something in the works for the inevitable surprise unveil at NAIAS.

Mr. Selleck made some jaw-dropping claims for his company's newest tire, including:

  • That the Defender stops fully 31 feet shorter than competitors - two car lengths shorter.
  • That the Defender has very low rolling resistance. As usual with low rolling resistance tires, the resistance stats are expressed in some not obvious and not immediately quantifiable ways. What Mr. Selleck actually said was that the tire was "17% better in rolling resistance than [the] last-generation Michelin product" and claimed a fuel savings of $250 over the life of four tires "compared to our leading competitors."
  • And finally, that it boasts an astonishingly high wear resistance. How high, you ask? High enough for Michelin to offer a 90,000 mile warranty on the tires. Yeah, I thought I read that wrong the first time too. You gotta be pretty confident in your tires to be offering a treadlife warranty like that.

The Defender achieves all of these goals at least partially by using one of my favorite pieces of new tire technology - 3D self-locking sipes. The sipes on the Defender are cut in an "S" shape in cross section, so that the tread blocks are allowed to flex only a certain amount before the sipes lock together and stiffen the tread block. Flexible tread blocks wear faster, so being able to constrain the tread block to flexing only as much as is needed for grip helps to slow down wear. A high-silica rubber compound is also a factor.

The Michelin Defender will be available this spring.

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