March 17, 2010

Tire with retractable studs gains supportBill would allow tires with studs year-round

PAUL CARRIER

— By

Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A South Carolina company that plans to manufacture tires with retractable studs is asking Maine lawmakers to legalize their use year-round by partially lifting a ban on studded tires during the warm-weather months.

The Legislature should exempt the new tires because they will not damage roads when the studs are not in use, Bruce Starr of Q Tires Inc. told the Legislature's Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

State law now bans studded tires on Maine roads from May through September, to protect the roads from damage.

''When the current statute was created, no one contemplated a tire like the one that has been developed by Q Tires Inc.,'' Starr said.

Starr said the company is laying the groundwork for marketing the radial tire by asking states to allow its use all year. He said five states legalized year-round use in 2007, and lawmakers in South Dakota and Indiana have passed similar bills this year that are awaiting gubernatorial signatures.

The two-year-old, privately owned company, which does not manufacture or sell tires now, plans to introduce the retractable studded tire as ''our initial product'' in some markets later this year, according to Sean Chariker, the firm's marketing director.

Starr said the tires may be available in Maine before the end of this year.

No one opposed the bill during Tuesday's public hearing

Once the committee votes on the plan, on March 6, it will forward its recommendation to the full Legislature.

Starr said the new tire will have two air chambers, a main chamber that keeps the tire inflated and an auxiliary chamber ''that controls the deployment of the studs.''

By flipping a switch on the tire, a driver will be able to transfer enough air from the main chamber to the auxiliary chamber to activate the studs, according to Q Tires Inc. A second flip of the switch will close the valve that links the two chambers, release the air from the auxiliary chamber and retract the studs.

Eventually, Starr said, plans call for installing a remote control in vehicles equipped with the tires, so drivers will not have to manually activate and retract the studs.

Starr said testing shows that the auxiliary chamber uses so little air that it can be activated ''upwards of 30 times'' before the motorist has to inflate the tire.

The company says the tire, which will be test marketed this summer, will have a life span of 40,000 to 50,000 miles and cost about 30 percent more than a premium all-season tire.

The ''gee whiz'' nature of the technology was not lost on lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, who is sponsoring the proposed change in the law on behalf of Q Tires Inc.

Diamond told the committee that the company's tire design ''is a bit James Bond-ish'' because it is so revolutionary.

''At first, it was a little bizarre (sounding), a little odd,'' Diamond said. ''But the more I learned about it, the more sense it made.''

The fact that the new tire has passed federal safety tests ''convinces us that this tire is ready to be sold and used in Maine,'' Ray Simond of the Maine Custom Auto Association told the legislative committee.

''If an individual today purchases a winter tire, this is something they are going to want to have,'' Starr said.

Matthew Ahonen, a Maine tire dealer who did not attend Tuesday's legislative hearing, said in a telephone interview later that Starr may be right.

''If they could actually make that fly, there would probably be a market for that,'' said Ahonen, who manages the Haley's Tire and Auto Center in Falmouth.

He said ''it might take a couple of seasons to get people to try it,'' once it becomes available.

Ahonen said studded tires have ''made a big comeback'' since the ice storm of 1998 and they now account for about 30 percent of his store's winter-tire sales.

The new tires may represent a breakthrough in technology, but that was not enough to get one to the State House in time for Tuesday's hearing.

Although Starr, an Oregonian, made it to Augusta, he said the tire was stuck at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, en route to Maine. It is expected to arrive in Augusta later this week.

Staff Writer Paul Carrier can be contacted at 622-7511 or at:

pcarrier@pressherald.com

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