Current Issue

Game Changing Technology: The tires of the future (part 1)

Comments Email

The tire of the future will be round, probably black and more than likely pneumatic.

Beyond that, the variables in play—new materials, new manufacturing methods, changing vehicle designs and needs, etc.—present an evolving spider web of tire design parameters that put all design features, except round, into play.

To gain insight into how the tire industry perceives the tire of tomorrow, Rubber & Plastics News surveyed a handful of major tire makers, asking about a number of game-changing aspects of tire design.

Bridgestone Americas Inc.; Contintental Tire the Americas L.L.C.; Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.; Goodyear; Hankook Tire USA; Michelin North America Inc.; Pirelli Tyre S.p.A.; and Sumitomo Rubber North America responded. Their edited responses are excerpted beginning on Page 8.

Arguably the most intriguing and most radical change from a design/technology point of view, is the pneumatic/non-pneumatic question.

Being able to produce a non-pneumatic tire that offers key pneumatic-based properties such as comfort, load-bearing capacity and braking/handling grip would reduce, if not eliminate, the pneumatic tire's Achilles heel—pressure loss.

The development of a viable non-pneumatic tire also would disrupt the entire existing distribution model, since there would be little, if any, need for tire mounting and/or balancing.

That day, however, is still a ways off—decades, perhaps—according to tire makers large and small, including Group Michelin, which has one of the most viable solutions, the Tweel tire/wheel hybrid product, already on the market.

To date, non-pneumatic designs are limited to low speed, relatively low load-bearing applications, although Michelin and a handful of others are offering airless products for the ATV/UTV market. More immediate is the emergence of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, both of which present distinct operating parameters that have direct influence on tire design, the tire makers generally agreed.

Trends in materials development go in two distinct directions—cooperative research with polymer producers on tailored synthetic elastomers for niche applications and development of sustainable alternatives to traditional petrochemical-based materials.

And weight. Tire makers all agree they have to engineer out more weight to meet OE demands and to help reduce rolling resistance even more.

Answers supplied in the questions and answers section on this page came from:

Bridgestone—Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer; Continental— collective; Cooper—Chuck Yurkovich, senior vice president, global research & development; Goodyear—collective; Hankook—Robert Wheeler, head of America Technical Center; Michelin—collective; Pirelli—Pierluigi de Cancellis, executive vice president technology; and Sumitomo—collective.

Editor's note: An abbreviated version of the tire makers' responses appeared in the June 11 print issue of Rubber & Plastics News. The full responses to the questionnaire will be presented online as a three-part series. This is part one of that series.

Q: Looking 10+ years down the road, what tire performance criteria do you anticipate will be most important? (e.g. – rolling resistance; weight; all-season vs. winter grip; puncture-resistance; tread life; etc.) How will that differ from today?

BRIDGESTONE: As OEMs continue to look for ways to address CAFÉ standards and adoption of electric vehicles becomes more widespread, tires with lower rolling resistance and lower total weight will be increasingly important.

As fully autonomous vehicles become standard, we also expect to see consumers' performance expectations shift. In the future, cars will become the ultimate riding machine and tire solutions that reduce NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) will be even more critical.

Along these same lines, tires that offer extended mobility also will be a huge area of opportunity for tire manufacturers in the next 10-15 years. Run-flat technology and longer tread life will be critical as trends in autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing continue to grow. Consumers will look to fleets to provide uninterrupted service, and fleet managers will look to keep vehicles running more efficiently, longer.

Finally, tire manufacturers will continue to use innovations in polymer science and explore more sustainable sources of natural rubber to deliver on key sustainability commitments without sacrificing supply or performance.

CONTINENTAL: From an end-consumer perspective, we do not anticipate a big change per segment/region: Americas—mileage/convenience; Asia/Pacific—comfort; Europe—safety.

OE continues pushing for rolling resistance while the balance of vehicle dynamics, noise and safety is customer specific, with electrification mileage and grip as well as energy efficiency (is not RR but most probably something that most of the time correlates) might get more important.

If the passenger/light truck fleet business grows, total cost of ownership will be key.

COOPER: While it's unclear exactly what the future will hold, it is very likely that a more diversified range of vehicles operating with a variety of propulsion systems will enter the market in the years to come. New and different tires will be required for efficient vehicle operation. Development of these vehicles and tires presents an exciting challenge. Technology and progress go hand in hand, and we welcome that challenge at Cooper Tire.

MICHELIN: Consumer performance expectations drive performance criteria. The priority on safety and wear will remain key for consumers with a continued focus on rolling resistance and robust tire solutions for OEMs due to emission/fuel economy regulations. Safety will include the performance of tires in both new and worn states, with an emphasis on wet stopping. Finally, we will see the advent of smart tires, starting with tire identification to enable both improved safety and predictive maintenance for consumers.

PIRELLI: Five criteria:

  1. Rolling Resistance: Further reduction in rolling resistance (not only in "free rolling" condition but also and especially in actual driving condition, i.e. braking, cornering, etc.) and hence in energy economy as a consequence also of electric/hybrid vehicle diffusion and the related need for battery autonomy extension.
  2. Extended Mobility: Adoption of advanced solutions for the tire puncture problem (e.g. self-sealing tires, runflat tires) as a technology enabling also shared mobility and autonomous driving.
  3. Connectivity: Application of sensor technology to development of "intelligent" tires and the use of data collection for enabling different services. The collection and processing of data regarding many aspects of the tyre performance and road conditions is useful for optimizing overall tyre performance and safety and minimizing energy consumption, a topic of growing importance, especially with regard to electric and hybrid vehicles.
  4. Weight: tyre weight is targeted to be reduced in order to improve overall vehicle efficiency
  5. Noise: due to vehicle evolution, including the diffusion of hybrid/electic cars, tyre noise reduction will more and more become a key target

SUMITOMO: Over the next 10 years, we will see the continued focus from vehicle makers on creating new methods of providing propulsion that utilize less fossil fuel for vehicles of all types. This will keep items like rolling resistance and lower weight as main topics from the OE standpoint, whether the power comes from internal combustion, hybrid, electric or a totally new form of energy. From the consumer's standpoint, they will continue to desire reliable, consistent performance from the vehicle, including the tire. For the tire specifically the most important performance criteria will be all the above. The demand for tires that do everything will increase.

The challenges tire manufacturers are facing today will continue to be the focus for the next decade. Constantly looking for ways to use less energy without sacrificing grip, wear and comfort will push tire makers for the development of introducing new materials and research methods into tire design and production. Pushing past the traditional performance compromises will mean creating low rolling resistance tires that provide outstanding wet grip, provide long mileage along with higher levels of winter traction. We will still have tires designed specifically for each segment of vehicle, but the range of performance these tires provide will be much broader than today.

Q: What vehicle developments will influence the tire of tomorrow? (eg. – electric-powered; autonomous; ride-sharing; fuel savings; etc.)

BRIDGESTONE: We are engineering and innovating to address three key megatrends in the automotive industry: an electrified car parc, autonomous vehicle technology and ride-sharing.

As the car parc continues to evolve, so too will the need for tires that can address the specific and unique needs of those vehicles. Ridesharing likely will replace personal vehicle ownership over time, and consumers will expect these vehicles to eliminate the personal stress and frustration associated with unplanned issues. As a result, Bridgestone is continuing its focus on developing durable tires that can offer extended mobility.

An increase in adoption of electric vehicles is going to drive tire innovation, too. Electric vehicles will require tires with a higher load carrying capacity as batteries will increase vehicle weight. Tires with longer wear life and even better durability also will be important due to instantaneous acceleration from electric drives. Last, but not least, improved NVH technologies will be critical. As engine noise reduces, riders notice wind and road noise more than other noises coming from the vehicle itself.

Finally, autonomous vehicle technology is evolving at a rapid pace as vehicle manufacturers and technology companies race to commercialize a driverless car solution for consumers. Over the next 10 years, we expect to see huge growth in this segment. Tires and solutions that are an integrated part of a connected vehicle ecosystem will be critical. Tire manufacturers will need to be working hand in hand with OEMs to engineer solutions that are up to this challenge.

CONTINENTAL: No question that a continuous trend toward fuel efficiency (or range extension) continues for the foreseeable independent of the drive train. All of the scenarios (electric, autonomous, ride sharing, etc.) have potential influence on tire performance. Looking at electric—range, noise, comfort and wear are topics that have to be understood in detail.

Some vehicle manufacturers see the tires and windshield wipers as the only components that require service in the future. In such a scenario both technology and business models can be adjusted to suit this perspective. Autonomous, we believe, will be supported mainly by a connected tire that is equally monitored by the vehicle in the same way as other moving components in the vehicle. In terms of ride-sharing or a growing number of fleets (autonomous or standard), the number of miles per vehicle would increase. This drives the needs for a low maintenance interval and the need for service, monitoring and tires, which suits such high mileage rates (wear etc.).

COOPER: Three areas of vehicle development that have the potential to create future opportunity for tire suppliers are electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and fleets, as the tires needed here are somewhat unique for each vehicle configuration. For example, electric vehicles tend to be heavier than standard gas powered vehicles given the weight of the car's battery pack. Tires will need to be able to handle this increased load while being light and fuel efficient to ensure the vehicle achieves the greatest level of mileage and efficiency from each charge of its battery system.

Autonomous vehicles also present some interesting opportunities and challenges for tire makers. Today, each driver reacts differently to the driving environment, putting a variable amount of stress on a car's tires. Some drivers accelerate and stop more quickly than others. Some drivers may change lanes more often, using much more of the tire's capability to comply with these needs. In the case of autonomous vehicles, input from the vehicle to the tires will be more consistent and controlled, providing a more uniform input to the tire. Tires will tend to achieve higher mileage to removal and may have more even wear overall. In addition, it's likely that "smart tires,"—using sensors to tell the vehicle about the condition of the tires and alert it to any concerns—will be part of the overall autonomous vehicle system.

Taking a step further, autonomous vehicles may exist as fleet vehicles, being used more consistently than today's passenger vehicles. Today, we drive to work, our cars sit for many hours, and then we drive home. But autonomous vehicles could be running continuously to service many riders, thus it will be important for tires to have high levels of air retention and provide excellent fuel economy, tread wear, traction and overall performance.

HANKOOK: The automobile industry already is shifting. Seemingly "new" innovations and developments are becoming mainstream, leaving behind tradition and outdated customs. Trunks are replacing engines and batteries. Electric motors are now located in the bottoms of cars. These changes modify the concept of space and driving systems in vehicles. What used to be moved by human hands and feet are now being driven by various sensors and cameras. Driving and stopping automatically is something any company can make possible. What's significant is whether the cars can handle unexpected situations and how subtle and detailed the driving is.

These days, eco-friendly cars are the megatrend. A representative model is the electric car. Electric cars don't emit pollutants and are powered by electricity. However, as problems with charging stations, charging time and low mileage have not yet been resolved, electric cars have not been widely distributed.

For now, hybrid vehicles are bridging the gap between internal-combustion-engine vehicles and electric vehicles.

The hybrid car market is growing at a fascinating rate. The demand for hybrid car tires and the proportion of newly released cars equipped with eco-friendly tires is steadily increasing. The increasing supply of electric cars raises the importance of EV tires. In the future, EV tire technology may become the criteria for estimating tire companies' competence.

MICHELIN: The triple play of electric, shared, and autonomous are clearly driving the automotive industry and future tire development. These vehicle trends drive the need for robust tire solutions (sealant or runflat), rolling resistance for improved autonomy of the electric vehicles of tomorrow, and connected tires to know the tire on the vehicle and it's performance. The condition of the tire (inflation, wear state, overall integrity) will need to be sensed and reported to the driver/vehicle systems

PIRELLI:

  • Continued emphasis on reducing emissions and improving fuel economy;
  • Evolution of alternative engine system (e.g. PHEV, BEV) applied to all classes of vehicle including premium and prestige segment;
  • Pervasive application of electronics with special emphasis on connectivity;
  • Evolution of ADAS; and
  • Increased use of sustainable/recyclable/reusable materials in all part of the vehicle.

SRI/FALKEN: The physical attribute evolution of vehicles will have the largest impact on the tire of tomorrow. Elements such as electric propulsion will change the torque application to the tire, demanding changes in traction capability and durability factors, such as wear. New steering systems that allow for parking a vehicle simply by pulling up to an open space and then move sideways into the space would place much different demands on the tire than we have today. Computerized sensing and control, where the vehicle senses all elements of mobility and makes driving inputs itself will drive tire makers to integrate sensors and communication elements into the tire itself. These are just a few of the items that will drive new tire technology.

Autonomous vehicles and ride sharing will have a big impact on the way tires are sold and distributed in the future. Changing the way vehicles are owned and used will change the way parts and services are acquired, including tires. Ride sharing will reduce miles per vehicle in the future.