Retractable studded tires set to roll
Studded tires work best on snowy and icy roads across the nation's Snowbelt, but highway officials wince at the damage they cause when roads...
The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Maine — Studded tires work best on snowy and icy roads across the nation's Snowbelt, but highway officials wince at the damage they cause when roads are dry. Promoters of a new type of winter tire believe they've solved the problem with some James Bond-style gadgetry.
Q Tires feature retractable studs that emerge when the driver flicks a switch inside the car. When the snow and ice melt, all it takes is another flip of the switch — and voilà — the studs hide back under the treads and the tires are transformed again.
The company's founder, Michael O'Brien hatched the retractable studded-tire idea and developed a prototype about five years ago. The attention-gripping brand name hints James Bond's gadget master, Q, and the spiked tires that gave Bond's Aston Martin extra traction in the 2002 film "Die Another Day."
The company plans to have its newfangled tire, dubbed the Q Celsius, in test markets this summer, to be followed by a broader product rollout by the end of the year.
But before that happens, promoters have been visiting northern states like Maine to make sure their product does not run afoul of state rules and regulations.
Some northern states have laws that prohibit studded tires between spring and fall. As it's now written, Maine's law would prohibit even tires with retractable studs during the warmer months. So a Maine lawmaker, Sen. Bill Diamond, submitted a bill that will amend the law.
"It's not the most bizarre bill I've presented," he said, "but it's certainly the most interesting." Diamond's bill quietly rolled through the Legislature and was signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Baldacci.
Laws were passed last year in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Montana, said Bruce Starr, a company spokesman who visited Maine's State House to tout Diamond's bill.
Q Tires are installed and balanced just like conventional tires, but a wireless signal is used to activate an air chamber inside the tire that causes the studs to appear. Like conventional tires, they can be repaired with a plug or patch at any tire dealer, the company said.
The company, which has a joint venture to manufacture the tires in China, is not affiliated with any major tire manufacturer. The company said the tires meet federal motor-vehicle safety standards.
In their presentation to Maine's Transportation Committee, promoters made no secret that the tires would cost 30 percent more than a comparable winter tire, either with or without studs. But motorists can recoup the extra cost by avoiding the twice-a-year ritual of mounting and unmounting their snow tires, Starr said.
"Winter tires can be more expensive than the all-season original equipment tire so if you need studded tires, it's an option that you didn't have before," said Kevin Rohlwing of the Bowie, Md.-based Tire Industry Association.
Q Tires are designed with two air chambers, one to inflate the tire and a separate one just to apply pressure on the studs when they are deployed.
The tires do lose a small amount of pressure when the studs are retracted, so motorists using the Q Celsius would have to pay closer attention to tire pressure. But Starr said the motorist can retract the studs 30 times before there's a significant loss of pressure in the tire.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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