Taming winter conditions for 80 years

Peace of mind and security for millions of people. State-of-the-art technology that brought a new era. This year marks the passing of 80 years since the world’s first winter tyre was created for the freezing temperatures and high winds of the North. This revolutionary invention has since become standard equipment for motorists driving in winter. In consequence, there are more than 700 million winter tyres rolling along the roads in wintertime. The winter tyres of the new millennium bear little resemblance to their predecessors from several decades ago.

In the early days of motoring, winter roads were often very narrow and unploughed. Motorists slipped around on snow-covered roads with the same tyres they used in summer. A driver caught in a tricky spot could put snow chains on the automobile to facilitate driving. Suomen Gummitehdas Osakeyhtiö began the Nokian Tyres tradition by tackling the challenge head-on. The result was the world’s first winter tyre, which hit the market in 1934. That product, the Weather Tyre, was designed for trucks; then, two years later, drivers of passenger cars received their own conqueror of snowy roads, called the Snow Hakkapeliitta.

The invention of winter tyres made life easier, enabling trucks and passenger cars to move even during heavy snowfall, without any cumbersome snow chains. The surface of the Weather Tyre had a coarse tread pattern that bit into the snow beneath the truck just as a chain does. Also, the tread pattern was loose, so the tyre was easily cleared of snow and maintained good grip. The pattern of the Weather Tyre was deemed so good, in fact, that it remained unchanged for two decades. At the same time, the Snow Hakkapeliitta showed its mastery of twists and turns, thanks to both strong cross-grooves and suction cups that prevented slipping on an icy road.

Products tailored for the circumstances

Winter tyres have come a long way from where they were 80 years ago. By current standards, what made the Weather Tyre a winter tyre was mainly its tread pattern. The Weather Tyre’s most important feature was good mobility in snow, but, as motoring became more popular, roads began to be ploughed, and the resulting icy road surface placed further demands on winter tyres. Now the tyres had to have grip in both snowy and icy conditions. In response to this need, the first Kometa Hakkapeliitta studded tyres were introduced in 1961. The studded tyre brought together the Hakkapeliitta winter tyre, the Kometa stud, and the expertise of rubber repairman Veikko Ryhönen, and it solved the problem – the stud provided grip on icy roads, and the tyre itself conquered soft snow. The first friction tyres entered the marketplace in the 1970s, and their grip properties were rooted in not only the tread pattern but also new and innovative rubber compounds.

These days, a modern winter tyre must also provide lateral grip, and various rubber compounds tailored to match the tread provide a significant share of a tyre’s grip properties. While the Weather Tyre had approximately 30 components, its modern-day equivalent, the non-studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2, has more than a hundred. In addition, winter tyres must provide levels of handling, grip in the wet, and fuel-efficiency that people could not even dream of 80 years ago. Winter tyres are developed for many distinct types of use – after all, winter differs greatly between the North and Central Europe, for instance. Also, cars have changed, and today’s tyre development takes account of how well tyres work with the various anti-skid and stability-control systems in use.

The hybrid tyre of the future

Finding something new requires searching for one’s boundaries and pushing them. One example of development work that benefits ordinary consumers was seen on the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia in March 2013 when Nokian Tyres test driver Janne Laitinen reached 335.713 kilometres per hour.

What, then, will move us along the winter roads of the future? One indication comes from a concept tyre introduced early this year, a novel hybrid design. At the push of a button, the driver can make grip-improving studs pop to the surface of the tyre.

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