Winter Driving on a Budget
Sailun Tires has been around for 12 years, but you can be forgiven if you haven’t heard of them.
Despite making inroads in North America and selling over 10 million tires globally last year, the company is still a bit of an enigma to many consumers. As part of the company’s bold ambition to eclipse triple its sales in the near future, Sailun is hard at work to get the word out that its tires are just as good as many of the “big brands” despite their value orientation.
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As a China-based company, Sailun knows it has to battle preconceived notions about build quality. Tire manufacturing in China varies wildly from plant to plant, but Sailun is quick to point out that every other major tire manufacturer in the world has a production plant in China. As a member of the Mesnac Partnership, the company is committed to top manufacturing practices.
|1. The IceBlazer WSL2 is one of three winter tires sold by Sailun.2. Pricing for the 155/80R13 IceBlazer WSL2 begins at $56.95.
3. The IceBlazer is available in rims sizes ranging from 13” to 18”.
4. The IceBlazer has been extensively testing in the North American market.
Three Tier Industry
As Sailun sees it, there are three basic tiers in the tire world. The top tier consists of the big names in tire manufacturing like Goodyear and Michelin. The second tier consisting of major players in the tire world like Hankook and Yokohama and then there is the “value tier.” According to Sailun, 45.3 percent of all replacement tires are “value tires,” but no company holds more than a five percent market share in this tier. Sailun’s goal is to be the top player in the value tier, but with tires that can rival anything in the second tier market and even a few in the top tier.
Winter tires make up a large part of the aftermarket tire industry. Few vehicles come from the factory with snow tires, so almost every purchasing decision for winter rubber is made by a consumer. Sailun wants to grab a large portion of the winter tire market and thinks the brand’s latest winter tire, the IceBlazer WSL2, can do the trick.
The IceBlazer WSL2
The WSL2 joins the more hardcore, studdable IceBlazer WST1 and IceBlazer WST2 light truck tire in the Sailun winter lineup. I, myself, am the owner of a set of WST1 tires that have been installed on my 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata for the past two years. I have been impressed with the snow and ice performance, but have two complaints: road noise and vibration levels are too high. That is where the WSL2 comes in. Sailun claims the tire will perform similarly to an unstudded WST1 on snow and ice, but with improved levels of road noise and comfort.
So off to the snow-belt we head to test these claims in real-world situations. In usual Sailun tire testing fashion, we are going to be testing two tires, blind without knowing which tire is which. One tire would be the Sailun IceBlazer WSL2 while the other would be a leading “tier 2″ competing winter tire. The names on the sidewalls have been scrubbed off so we can’t cheat.
Three different tests lay before us: a snowy slalom, an icy emergency lane change maneuver and a drive route through real-world roads of various wintery conditions. We would be piloting 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium models with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. First up: the slalom course. The track is very slick as a thick layer of packed snow was slowly being pounded into ice making things slipperier as the test progressed. Even though we are doing these tests blind, for the sake of simplicity and easy reading, the tire we are comparing to the Sailun is the Hankook i*Pike (W409).
Real World Testing
On the slalom course, the Sailun tire appears to have better initial bite from the front tires in the corners, allowing the back end to hangout easier when on throttle. The Hankooks meanwhile deliver a more predictable driving behavior, albeit slower, around the course. On the ice emergency lane change maneuver, the Sailun IceBlazer has noticeably better acceleration grip and stopping power during the panic zone at the end of the course. Again, the Hankook feels like a more predictable tire to drive around this course, but the Sailun does provide sharper, if not sudden, reflexes.
But the final test is the real test, the one most important to consumers. It is a drive along several different roads with various states of winter grime on them. There will be salty highways, icy secondary roads, snow covered hilly back-roads and deep rutted parking lots. Here we expect the tires to once again behave similarly. However, after a few laps around the multi-mile course, the Sailun began to emerge as the clear favorite.
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Once again, the Sailun feels like it has more initial grip, accelerates faster and brakes shorter. Since we are no longer pushing these tires to the limit, control and predictability matched the Hankook on the road. But the biggest surprise, is how much quieter the new WSL2 is not only compared to the old WST1, but the Hankook i*Pike as well.
As the day came to an end, everyone in attendance was asked to rate both tires on a scale of zero to five in several key categories. Once all the final results were tabulated, both tires achieved a dead even four-point rating. For a lot of tire companies, this would be bad news as the brand’s tire did not outperform the major competitor’s tire. However, this is the exact result Sailun had hoped for; proof that a Sailun tire can perform as well as a tire commanding a 64 percent price premium.