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Making Bespoke Tires

Savile Row in London is renowned for its bespoke suits, tailored to meet the high demands of their customers. Similarly, tires used for new car deliveries, known as Original Equipment (OE) tires, must meet the specifications of car manufacturers and can be considered bespoke products.

Each car manufacturer has its own preferences for tires and each car model has its own set. Tires are the only automobile parts that touch the ground while driving and perform the crucial function of driving. That’s why custom-made tires are used for delivering brand new cars. As such, among tire companies, OE tire developers can be compared to the master tailors in Savile Row.

High-end brand tires must ensure performance, safety, and quality through rigorous testing. The impact of tires on automobile driving is immense, affecting overall performance, quietness, and comfort. The requirements for tailor-made tires for high-performance, high-end brand cars are top-notch. I spoke with the people in charge of the High-end Project at Hankook Tire to learn more about the details.

  • High-end Project Manager Myunghyun Nam (Left) and Researcher Jongwon Jung (Right). I met them at the high-tech R&D Center Hankook Technodome.

Q. First and foremost, most people don't know what OE tires are. Can you explain them?

A. Manager Myunghyun Nam, High-end Project OE stands for original equipment and refers to the tires that come equipped on a new car when it is delivered. Tires that can be purchased as replacements in retail shops are called replacement equipment (RE) tires. In other words, RE tires are like ready-made clothes while OE tires are like custom-made ones.

Q. With so many different demands, your organization must be fairly large to handle them all. Can you tell us about your project?

A. Myunghyun Nam At Hankook Tire, we have different OE development projects based on the car manufacturer, region, and segment. We currently have a total of 13 groups, including 2 development support groups. Our High-end Project group develops OE tires for high-end or luxury models such as Porsche.

Hankook Tire is the tire manufacturer for Audi's RS Q8/RS 7 Sportback, BMW's X3 M/ X4 M Competition, Porsche's Boxster/Cayenne/Taycan, among others.

Q. When you mention high performance, I think of UHP tires. Are they different from OE tires

A. High-end Project Researcher Jongwon Jung The criteria for UHP (ultra high performance) tires are different from those for OE tires. UHP refers to the performance of the tire, regardless of whether it is an OE or RE tire. High-end OE tires often fall into the UHP category because high-end models tend to be high-performance cars. However, not all high-end OE tires are UHP tires. The basic concept of OE tires is that they are tailor-made to meet the performance requirements of car manufacturers.

Q. Do car manufacturers provide you with the new car to develop the OE tires, like how a tailor would take a customer’s measurements before making clothes?

A. Myunghyun Nam Sometimes there may not be a new car available if production isn’t finished yet. In those cases, we tune an existing model to have the same features as the new model and use it to develop our tires. Car manufacturers provide us with information about the model, including its specifications. Recently, they've been actively sharing digital data for development purposes. We use this data and our accumulated information to perform simulations and check if the real tires meet the expected performance in driving tests.

Q. Do you use AI in tire development?

A. Jongwon Jung Hankook Tire established an AI division about 5 years ago and we've been using it ever since. We use AI to reduce the gap between real test results and simulation results as much as possible. As the time required for the development of car manufacturers continues to decrease, the use of AI and digital simulations is on the rise. We need to reduce the development time of OE tires so they can be equipped on new models in time. Simulations and AI help us a lot in this regard.

A. Myunghyun Nam Virtualization seems to be a new trend in manufacturing. Hankook Tire has been investing heavily in virtualization and has developed our own technology for simulating everything from individual tire models to overall car performance predictions.

  • Developing OE tires is the process of creating custom-mode tires that match the requirements set by manufacturers. Tire noise measurement chamber, Hankook Technodome.

Q. How much time does it take to develop OE tires?

A. Jongwon Jung It varies depending on the manufacturer and model. In one recent case, it took 3 years and 11 months from the start of development to the release of the car. AI helped us reduce the time needed by learning from past cases and reducing the deviation between test results and simulation results. The precision of our AI is now high enough for commercial use, which means we can expect shorter development times in the future.

Q. Developing OE tires seems like something that can only be done with accumulated experience.

A. Myunghyun Nam Of course. In fact, cars are products built on a foundation of technology accumulated over a long period of time. Was the first car created completely out of nothing? I don’t think so. While it may have been the first of its kind, cars were built on the accumulated experience of existing wheeled vehicles such as wagons, bicycles, and trains. In the same way, if we were to develop a completely new tire from scratch, it would be very difficult. However, throughout human civilization, and even just within our company for the past 80 years, our predecessors have gone through a great deal of trial and error to accumulate and verify technology. All of our development work stands on the shoulders of these giants. I believe it saves us a lot of time and money.

A. Jongwon Jung Having extensive experience with the target brand or similar cars is very important when developing OE tires. We can’t develop tires based on vague assumptions like ,"This brand might be kind of like this." The requirements for OE tires vary greatly depending on the car manufacturer. For example, some brands or models prioritize high-speed driving performance while others prioritize wet road handling performance or ride comfort. Therefore, we need to understand all types of cars. Developing OE tires is an ongoing process of adding today’s experience to our technological heritage. In particular, experience with supercars and luxury cars is essential for developing high-end OE tires. Of course, our experience in developing motorsports tires such as Formula E or those for Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series are also part of our legacy.

“The main goals for OE tires are durability and braking performance related to safety, ride comfort and handling performance, and energy efficiency. In addition to these performance areas, car manufacturers may also specify other conditions for OE tires which can be thought of as tailor-made.”

― Manager Myunghyun Nam, Hankook Tire High-end Project

Q. What conditions do car manufacturers specify when requesting OE tire development?

A. Myunghyun Nam They specify all the roles required for the tires to be mounted on their cars. Typically, they provide specific numbers for durability and braking performance as well as ride comfort or handling, depending on the season and road conditions. Sometimes these numbers change and we have to go through the process of improving the tire to match them. This is especially true when developing cars on completely new platforms, such as electric cars where even manufacturers have difficulty setting up their vehicles. We also faced many difficulties, but through continuous communication and perseverance, we were eventually able to receive performance approval.

Q. Are there particularly stringent requirements for high-end OE tires?

A. Myunghyun Nam Performance is always the most important criterion, but sometimes there are conditions outside of performance as well. Recently, we received a request to develop an OE tire that incorporates sustainability and worked with a manufacturer to develop a tire using eco-friendly materials that has received performance approval. The sidewall of this OE tire will feature a special design representing eco-friendly tires, as well as an eco-friendly certification mark.

A Porsche Panamera equipped with Hankook Tire Ventus S1 Evo Z.

Q. Is the certification mark awarded by Hankook Tire?

A. Jongwon Jung No. OE tire certification marks are selected by the manufacturer of the vehicle. For example, we engrave "N-mark" on the sidewall of Porsche OE tires. N is followed by letters or numbers, according to the specific model. NFO is for Taycan, and NDO is for Panamera. All those marks are designated by Porsche.

A. Myunghyun Nam Occasionally, there are cases where a tire developed as an RE tire receives approval from a car manufacturer and obtains an OE certification mark. Sometimes they even add the name of the tire to their vehicle service manual, but those cases are extremely rare.

  • The building for the Hankook Technodome received LEED Gold rating. Eco-friendly is the main topic of modern society. These days, not only do high-end brands require performance for OE tires, but also sustainability.

Q. Does developing Formula E tires help showcase your sustainability capabilities?

A. Myunghyun Nam Actually, starting this year, the tires we supply to Formula E require comprehensive sustainability measures ranging from materials to manufacturing processes transportation and tire life, due to its nature as a newly born electric car race series. Accordingly, our High-end Project also introduces Hankook Tire’s capabilities by sharing information about Formula E tires or technology during kick-off meetings with manufacturers. We're also telling them about Hankook Technoring, which was established in 2022, to inform our customers about our enhanced research and development capabilities.

Q. Does high-end OE tire evaluation take place at Hankook Technoring?

A. Jongwon Jung Testing various supercars and high-performance sports cars at Hankook Technoring is like accumulating pre-experience through cars with a similar level of performance, as was mentioned earlier. According to the direct contract, the manufacturer's evaluation of the latter half of the development of OE tires for a specific model is mainly carried out at proving grounds in Spain, Italy, or France. That's because most brands that request high-end OE tire development are generally located in Europe. It's a decision based on accessibility due to physical distance, but it's also inevitable because of security issues for new cars that are about to be released. Come to think of it, the winter tire-only test site is also in Europe. There's a winter tire-only performance test site called Technotrac in Ivalo, Finland at 68° north latitude.

A. Myunghyun Nam If there's an item that can be evaluated at Hankook Technoring, such as labeling tests, we actively use it. In 2022, Porsche executives and team leaders visited Hankook Technoring and drove the Taycan. They were very satisfied with not only our tire performance, but also our evaluation infrastructure.

Q. How much distance is covered during testing for high-end OE tire development?

A. Jongwon Jung It’s case by case. Using our standards, when developing Porsche Cayenne E3 tires, we drove about 80,000 km while performing performance tests as well as sensory tests in order to understand the characteristics of the vehicle.

Q. Is all that distance covered only on proving grounds, or is testing also done on regular roads?

A. Myunghyun Nam Since vehicles that will be equipped with the OE tires are still under development, it's common to select a similar vehicle from the manufacturer’s existing production cars and modify it for testing. If there isn't a similar existing model because it's a completely new segment, then we use the manufacturer’s test car or prototype for evaluation. These tests are usually conducted on proving grounds, but sometimes they're also conducted on public roads. In the case of Porsche, they test wear performance on public roads during OE tire development. Some manufacturers, such as BMW, also evaluate various other areas on public roads. In fact, Hankook Tire test drivers equip high-end vehicles with tires under development and conduct sensory tests on public roads to understand the performance and feel of the tires from a consumer’s perspective. As a tire company, our ultimate goal is to supply OE tires to high-end or supercar brands, and we strive to improve tire performance by accumulating data through subjective and objective Tests using these vehicles.

When developing high performance tires, the high-end driving test is a must. Test drive pictures of Ford GT and Bugatti Chiron.

Q. Does testing with a prototype mean that you have been working together since the early stages of car development?

A. Jongwon Jung First, the manufacturer sets the concept and the required performance for the new car. From then on, full-fledged collaboration with the tire company takes place. If you look at it in terms of the car development schedule, the OE tire development is actually carried out together from the early stages of car development.

Q. If close collaboration starts from the very beginning, does the tire company suggest improvements for the car, too?

A. Myunghyun Nam There are cases like that. As electric car development has become more active, there was a case where the manufacturer requested a review to change the Rolling Resistance Target for MPGe improvement. We developed it with them while discussing together how the changes would affect other performance factors.

Q. Are there cases where customers come to Hankook Tire for development, evaluation, and testing?

A. Myunghyun Nam If face-to-face meetings are necessary, it's common for us to go on business trips to meet the manufacturers. As for Porsche, the purchasing/development team manager and executives visit Hankook Tire once a year for management meetings to check the development status while sharing the latest technology with each other (Previous test drive at Hankook Technoring was one of such visits). We also conduct joint evaluations of tires under development with manufacturers at proving grounds overseas.

The technology and information that we now take for granted is the legacy of our predecessors which has been verified through numerous trials and errors. I think since new tire development starts on this foundation of accumulated knowledge and experience, we can save a lot of time and cost.

― High-end Project Researcher Jongwon Jung, Hankook Tire

Q. I heard you are also developing OE tires for luxury brands. What kind of tires do they want?

A. Myunghyun Nam The only thing I can say is that there are conditions that match each brand's unique image that we are familiar with, and conditions that do not match it. Please understand. From our standpoint, we've already succeeded in developing many OE tires for Porsche, and we can predict what they value. On the other hand, I think we're still in the "getting to know you" stage with a brand that we've recently started collaborating with.

Q. How do car manufacturers select partners for OE tire development?

A. Myunghyun Nam In the new car development stage, OE tire development and supply are put up for competitive bidding. They are selected by comprehensively evaluating whether they meet the performance and price proposed by the manufacturer, as well as brand awareness and reliability.

Q. What is particularly difficult in OE tire development?

A. Myunghyun Nam I think the biggest burden is that success/failure is clear. It's not easy, as you have to satisfy customer requirements within a set schedule, and manufacturers are increasingly demanding higher performance. The OE tire development market is both a technological battlefield with competitors and a proving ground that demonstrates our company's technological capabilities to car manufacturers. The reward is as great as the difficulty we face. If we succeed in winning high-end OE tire development work and receive performance certification from manufacturers to supply smoothly, then that means we've proven Hankook Tire's technological prowess.

As a researcher, high-end OE tire development is as rewarding as it is burdensome and difficult.

Q. Can consumers purchase OE tires?

A. Jongwon Jung Tires with performance approved by car manufacturers can be purchased by consumers as replacement tires. They can usually be purchased at the official service centers of the respective brands.

Q. Considering all your answers so far, it seems like an OE tire is a tire meant to perform optimally on a particular model.

A. Jongwon Jung I think so. The data proves it. In fact, considering that an OE tire is developed specifically for that vehicle by learning everything about it from the early stages of new car development, the tire has every reason to feature optimized performance for that model.

A. Myunghyun Nam That's also why we focus on OE tire development. In order to prove our advanced technology in the global market, we have no choice but to attract supercar manufacturers. Various projects and related teams of Hankook Tire are constantly researching and conducting real car tests to make OE tires for high-end brands and supercars. I have no doubt that our goal will be achieved someday.