Yokohama takes on the giants of the tire world

June 15, 2017

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So many people blame Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles, but it wasn’t really her fault, see? There were so many other factors … oh wait, this is about Yokohama, the tire company? Oh, OK.

Well, in the tire world, Yokohama is the David to Michelin’s Goliath, and to Goodyear’s Goliath, and to about seven or eight tire company Goliaths that make more tires worldwide than Yokohama does. It’s a big world, the tire market. Just in the U.S., the replacement radial tire market is expected to reach 180 million tires this year alone. No matter, says plucky Yokohama, we will carry on! (At least until one of the Goliaths buys them — haha!)

Oh the intrigue, fascination and romance of tires! Every now and then, we get a chance to peer into the tire side of the auto business. Tire manufacturing, marketing, sales and distribution as a business is covered pretty thoroughly by our sister publication, Tire Business of Akron, Ohio. Those guys can tell you about the new Shandong Linglong Tire Co. plant rumored for Europe, or that ZC Rubber is adding industrial and motorcycle tire production to its plant in Thailand. They have that industry covered. We at Autoweek usually focus more on the rest of the car. But once in a blue moon, an opportunity filters in to go play around with a new tire. A couple years ago, it was BFGoodrich’s KO2 M/T tire, which we drove around Baja for three days. This time, it was Yokohama that called to introduce its new Geolandar M/T G003.

Jeep

Yokohama-clad Jeep

The operative letters here are the M and the T, which stand for mud and terrain. If you see A/T on a sidewall, it means all terrain. UHP is ultra high performance. There are lots of acronyms. An M/T tire is usually larger than mere passenger car tires, and the tread blocks are more pronounced and stand further apart from each other — the better to fling the muck as the tire spins in the dirt. The tread blocks extend to the sidewalls, too, so that when you sink into the ooze, the tire’s sidewalls can still grab hold of the quagmire and free your Jeep.

Beyond that, Yokohama pointed out some improvements made on the new G003: It’s “longer, stronger, shorter and quieter.” A new high-density compound offers extended tread life. A new profile gives the tire a wide and flat contact patch. It has an 8 percent longer tread life than the industry leading tire. It has three sidewall plies and sidewall armor to protect against sidewall impacts, all while adding traction elements. The compound is cut- and chip-resistant. It has better handling on- and off-road and better wet braking. It’s even 2.3 decibels quieter than competitors, says Yokohama.

With all that in mind, I clambered into a purple Jeep Wrangler Unlimited shod with G003s and drove off into the desert outside bucolic Gateway, Colorado. And? Well, the tires didn’t blow. Our little group drove up some graded dirt roads, then across some rocky escarpments, then back on the graded dirt roads. There were a few ruts into which we placed the Yokohamas and indeed, the sidewalls grabbed onto the sides of the ruts and pulled the Jeep right on up and out. But they might have done that without the new, grippy sidewall treads. As far as I could tell, these were splendid tires.

Then we all switched into desert race trucks run by VORE, Vegas Off Road Experience. These were genuine desert race trucks with mid- rear-mounted Ford V6s driving the rear wheels. For a reasonable price, VORE gives newbies a chance to race across the desert just like Ivan Stewart. You can do several laps around a short course, flinging gravel and leaping off jumps, or VORE will take you on a three-day desert adventure. We ran as many laps as we could get away with on a short course bulldozed out of the dirt just outside of Gateway. This was stadium racing at its finest. Again, the Yokohamas stayed on the rims the whole time.

Next, we borrowed a Jeep to try the tires out on the paved Colorado Route 141. On pavement, the G003s were surprisingly quiet. Some aftermarket tires chosen in various home-built brodozers sound like a 747 landing on pavement. These tires, by contrast, sounded almost like the passenger car M/S treads that are on your Buick right now (go look!). We tromped on the brakes as hard as we could and the tires didn’t wander and flop all over the road. Likewise, in a few lane-change maneuvers, the Yokohamas held up admirably, not folding over on their sidewalls like round, drunken sailors.

Yokohama-shod truck

Yokohama-shod truck

But we never got to take these mud terrain tires on any mud. So we will have to extrapolate from the lovely photos Yokohama gave us that they are great in mud. Who knows?

The Geolandar M/T G003 comes in 37 sizes. Yokohama will release the first 20 next month, with 12 more sizes due out in the next month or two after that, then five more sizes in the fourth quarter. The tire fits on 15- to 20-inch rim diameters. Pricing will be “competitive,” was all they told us.

Is the Yokohama Geolandar M/T G003 better than the Linglong Crosswind M/T or the BFGoodrich KO2? We don’t know. We liked the BFGoodrich KO2, too. You’d really have to do a side-to-side comparison to see which one is best for your rig. But so far, when it comes to M/T treads, we can say the Yokohama and the BFG meet with our approval. Ask Tire Rack if there are any others.

Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn – West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn covers all car things west of the Mississippi from his Autoweek lair high above the LA metropolis.

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