Pirelli will supply its first "smart tire" application to an unnamed carmaker in the first half of 2004.
Smart tires incorporate sensors within their treads that provide information on vehicle dynamics directly from the road surface. Smart tire sensors are faster and more accurate than sensors mounted on suspension systems inside the vehicle body.
Pirelli revenues rose 9 percent to E2.95 billion last year. The Italian group does not break up profitability into operating sectors but said in a statement that "tire profitability continues to grow strongly, confirming the previous year's trends." Pirelli also has power-cable and telecommunications businesses.
Pirelli Tires, which accounts for 45.3 percent of group revenues, has 21 plants in 11 countries and a sales network covering 120 countries, employing 20,000 people worldwide. In Europe, 20 percent of sporty and luxury new cars are equipped with Pirelli tires.
In July 2000, Pirelli introduced its revolutionary Modular Integrated Robotized System at its tire plant in La Bicocca, near Milan, Italy. The fully automated production line cost just E6.8 million and is already profitable making a mere 400 tires a day.
A traditional tire plant is competitive at 25,000 tires a day, requires an investment of over E400 million, and is less flexible and more labor intensive.