“Go to a dealer, have a check and see what is written on the tyres of the Ducati Panigale if you do not believe me.”
We catch up with Piero Misani, Head of Pirelli R&D at the WSBK round in Sepang to talk tyres.
We understand that that Pirelli has multiple factories around the world now. Can you explain to us why Pirelli has decided to expand manufacturing to Asia?
This is a very important matter because like all other major companies, we are diversifying the production sites. Firstly, the old factories in Europe are experiencing a high-cost economy and therefore are not extremely competitive against other manufacturers that may be able to produce in developing countries. I call them developing countries because the labour costs are lower so we have incentives to invest in them. Secondly, we aim to to be closer to growing markets and it seems that the highest growth is coming from the Asian market so we have moved to Asia. These are the two main drivers of why we have recently introduced two new factories in China and Indonesia respectively. Now we have production for radials in China, which was traditionally produced in Germany. The production in Indonesia is a production for cross-ply tyres which was previously only produced in Brazil as far as Pirelli is concerned.
Some riders have voiced their concern about this so I’m going to be straightforward. How do Pirelli tyres manufactured in China compare to those made in Europe?
This concern is normal because we are used to considering Chinese products to be not of top quality. Well, this may be valid in some applications but in our case, we have a Pirelli product. We are very sure that our product is a Pirelli product with Pirelli performance and Pirelli quality, wherever we produce it. You don’t have to consider that China will produce a different radial than in Germany or that Indonesia will produce a different cross-ply than in Brazil. Pirelli standards will always remain the same and to do this, we have set up the factories with investments in terms of machinery and equipment that are absolutely in line with the standards you require for the Pirelli factories. Not only the machines and equipment are important but also safety, the environment and many factors that go beyond the product. All our raw materials have to be homologated to ensure that they are respecting the Pirelli equipments. We have to set quality checks but most importantly, we have set high quality standards ahead of the checking so that all the production steps, materials, procedures and everything is done according to our standard. Only by doing this, you basically get a product that you can blind test and cannot tell where it’s built because it is a Pirelli product. We don’t allow the production of any Pirelli tyre which does not satisfy our standards in terms of performance, quality and safety. And this is a big effort, I have to say.
What percentage of your radial production is coming from China?
Roughly 40% of our radial production is coming from China, so it’s not a minor contribution. For example, did you know that the front tyre of the Ducati Panigale is from China and the rear is from Germany? Go to a dealer, have a check and see what is written on the tyres of the Ducati Panigale if you do not believe me. The new BMW S1000XR launched recently also has one tyre from China and the other tyre from Germany and they match together perfectly. Why? Because they are Pirelli tyres.There are many other examples as well; if you take a F800 GS from BMW, the front is from Brazil and the rear from Germany. All these motorcycles are homologated by BMW and Ducati so there’s nothing better than that to prove our quality. That’s the way we are supplying at the moment with Ducati (our tyres are from different factories) and as long as it gives them the best performance, where the tyres are made do not matter to them.
Are there any tyres specially made for Asia as the conditions can be much hotter and more rainy over here?
Absolutely! We have to consider the specific conditions that you have here so when we have develop these tyres, they are tuned for your market. One example is the Angel ST that has been specially developed for the Asia local market, we have tuned the development in order to match the local conditions, both in terms of usage and road conditions and we also have not neglected the climate as a factor. These are tyres that have to perform extremely well in the rain because in this area rain is not so unusual as it can be somewhere else.We have a centre in Italy for testing where we have made most of the tests for this development but then we have also made some local tests in order to verify how the product performs in local conditions. This is something we have done also in the United States. We produce the prototypes, develop the product and at the final stage of the development, we have gone to the United States to test the performance on the big cruisers like Harley and Indian motorcycles.We always conduct tests on the local conditions in order to make final verifications before putting our products out in the markets.
Last but not least, this is a question that I’ve always wanted to ask. For F1 racing and certain motorsports, teams pump nitrogen into the tyres. Is there a reason why WSBK bikes aren’t doing the same thing for Pirelli tyres?
Well, there are some applications where nitrogen or inert gases are being used because these decouple the temperature rise from the pressure rise. In our case, our tyres are not so extreme in terms of pressure sensitivity. We have a range of products that fulfil a wider spectrum. We normally recommend our customers to use the pressures indicated in the papers of the bike, because the bike manufacturer has developed the bike on that standard. If you go to a dealer and you buy a tyre, it must not be a tyre that is so sensitive to 2.3 or 2.7 bar. The typical Pirelli construction has a wider application range which is an advantage of the superior construction that we have. Once again, it’s a matter of our philosophy to have the best performance but not to such a narrow application.One important point that we normally take into consideration while developing tyres is what we call versatility. What is versatility? The capability to plug and play the tyre on different motorcycles. We have eight different manufacturers taking part in WSBK. We don’t have special tyres for one or the other. This is the big challenge of a championship like World Superbikes because you have to have the best tyres for everybody.We have 23 riders and some are riding 2-cylinder engine bikes while some are on 4-cylinder inline and 4-cylinder V engine bikes. Once again, we require the best performance for all bikes and Superbikes allows us to develop materials, constructions, tyres that fit and work best on every bike. This is a concept that we want to keep and follow.If you take a superbike tyre or a normal street tyre from Pirelli, they are built exactly the same way because this is the philosophy we have. The racing tyres must be able to improve the street tyres and this can happen only if you have the same construction and the same characteristics on racing tyres and on-the-road tyres as it is for us.