It’s a Beautiful Journey – this is the slogan used by tire manufacturer Nokian, and it’s true that the journey undertaken many decades ago by the Finnish company has been quite something. The firm, a self-styled “life-driven company”, is celebrating 120 years of existence this year, and its mission is to provide motorists with peace of mind in all conditions.
The journey began for Nokian when it was founded in 1898… as a manufacturer of rubber boots. Cars were in their early infancy at that time, and it would be several years before the company got into the tire-making business.
Nokian made its first car tires in 1932. In 1934, the first designated winter tire was born from its efforts – surely a product of the requirements of dealing with the harsh winter conditions in Finland.
The tire name Hakkapeliitta was introduced in 1936; to this day, some tires sold under the Nokian banner carry that name. The historical name is of Finnish origin and belonged to the courageous Finnish light-cavalrymen in the service of Swedish king Gustav Adolphe during the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648).
“I was working at the time for a snowboard company and I had to drive a lot in wintertime for my employer. He told me right off that I had to feel safe and confident while driving, and that that meant Nokian tires for my vehicle.”
- Hans Dyhrman, Nokian marketing director
It was with this anecdote that Dyhrman introduced himself during the initial presentation for our recent day of testing out the brand’s tires.
For Nokian the manufacturer, the twin priorities are safety and sustainable development. And for motorists in Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian countries and in Russia, Nokian is synonymous with the winter season.
A day of testing
Nokian is renowned for its high-grade winter tires, but some may not know that the company also manufactures summer and all-season tires that benefit from solid reputations in their own right.
As part of an effort to increase its visibility in Canada, Nokian invited members of the automotive press to a special event spanning two days, during which we were given the opportunity to test out several different vehicles fitted with the company’s tires. It was the first such event put on by the manufacturer on Canadian soil, and I’m guessing it won’t be the last.
We were given a series of itineraries that took us in the region north of Montreal through places like St-Eustache, Ste-Adèle and Ste-Agathe; final destination was the beautiful L'Esterel Resort located in Ste-Marguerite du Lac Masson.
We had five vehicles in all that would serve to test out Nokian’s tires: Audi A4, Nissan Rogue, Dodge Durango, Chevrolet Silverado and RAM truck.
The Audi A4 equipped with zLine A/S tires infused us with a sensation of confidence and safety that became most acute when attacking sharp curves, and provided an exceptionally quiet ride.
The SUV/crossover tires we tried out included the Entyre C/S, fitted on the Dodge Durango. Our first impression riding on these was of great quiet and ride smoothness. Firmed-up edges and reinforced aramid tire walls not only improve stability when cornering and overall road grip, but also maximize durability and resistance to punctures. It’s worth noting that Nokian has developed deeper tread grooves to increase the lifespan of their tires.
Another Nokian all-season tire we tested was the Rotiiva A/T, this time on the RAM truck. Once again, a quiet and smooth ride was the defining quality. Nokian is of course best known for its excellent winter tires, and the manufacturer uses the same technology in its Rotiiva AT Plus. The 3D strips are placed strategically around the tread surface to improve grip and enable better handling on wet or snow-covered surfaces. Though we didn’t test that out during this early-fall event, we were assured this system also ensures proper traction on deep snow and on ice.
The addition of rock-dispersing elements at the bottom of the tread grooves helps remove rocks and gravel that can accumulate in the grooves. This actively helps prevent much of the damage you can get when riding over sharp-edged or serrated rocks. This is a great addition for those who frequently drive on gravel roads.
Sustainable development and quality
Nokian is proud to underline the investments it has made in renewable sources of energy, for example with the construction of the company’s factory in Colchester, Vermont, which runs solely on solar energy. Another example of its initiatives in this regard is its use of purified oils with all toxic and carcinogenic chemical materials removed with the aim of proving that high-quality materials are possible while being eco-conscious.
The company’s plant in Finland is powered by biomass, and they are a zero-waste business, recycling everything they use. Not for nothing they were named the world’s most eco-friendly tire manufacturer.
Strategic expansion plan
With its two European plants, one in Finland and the other just over the border in Russia, Nokian produces over 20 million tires per year. A new American plant has just been built in the U.S., in Dayton, Tennessee, and the company will produce 4 million tires there beginning in 2020.
Nokian also produces tires for heavy industry, particularly for the forestry, agriculture, ports and mining sectors.
Research and innovation
In addition to the research Nokian undertakes to create better tire designs and compounds, all while minimizing its environmental footprint, the company carries out rigorous testing in a variety of conditions – three of the recent models to come out of this testing are the Nokian WR G4 and Nokian Hakkapeliitta R3 and R3 SUV.
The most challenging place it conducts these tests is undoubtedly White Hell in Ivalo, the world’s most northern tire-testing site, located 290 km north of the Arctic Circle! At the other end of the spectrum, the company is currently building a new tech centre in Spain where it will conduct testing of all-season tires as well as performance tires designed for higher speeds.
One feature that Nokian has added to the mix in designing its tires is the use of what it calls driving safety indicators. Around the exterior surface of the treads, numbers indicate the percentage of usable tread on the tire. This serves as an easy way to quickly verify the remaining tread and decide if it’s time to change them.
Tires for electric vehicles
Nokian also produces tires with a low rolling resistance index (rated A) for electric cars. They were conceived to equip and test out the full-electric Finnish concept car, the Toroidion 1MW Concept - one of the first electrified vehicles to populate the supercar category!
As mentioned, Nokian uses aramid for the walls of its tires. This material is used in bullet-proof vests, so you can imagine just how much it reinforces those walls. Faced with crater-sized potholes that are so common on Canadian roads, this type of reinforcement helps the tire stay intact much better and much longer.
For Nokian, the world is a much bigger place than just tires. The firm is affiliated with the POWDR Adventure Lifestyles Company, which manages several resorts in the U.S., and it’s an official partner of the NFL. The company is a common presence as sponsor of various sports events. In fact, their CEO is Hille Korhonen, a woman who also happens to participate in Ironman competitions!
Land speed record… by a tractor!
Ever seen a tractor pull a drift? Nokian also produces tires for heavy machinery, and outfitted a tractor that set a new speed record while riding on winter tires!