CLEVELAND (Oct. 12, 2012)—Most car companies would love to eliminate the spare tire and save the precious weight and space it takes up, but don't look for it to happen in the near future.
That's because customers around the world largely don't want the safety blanket of a spare taken away and auto makers, above most everything else, want to please their customers, according to David Rohweder, Ford Motor Co. global chief engineer for tire and wheel engineering.
In fact, it probably will take convincing the next generation of drivers they don't need a spare tire, he said. That's because the majority of the current driving population is stuck in its belief that spares still are the best way to deal with a flat tire while driving, Rohweder said in his Sept. 20 keynote address at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference in Cleveland.
And the long-term future also will need to include new solutions not currently available that can ease the concerns of motorists, because no present alternatives satisfy extended mobility needs in all markets around the globe.
One reason that the spare tire won't disappear any time soon is that the priorities of car customers and auto makers aren't always in alignment.
Rohweder said drivers want greater personal convenience; personal safety; independence; ability to get to a service center to continue their trip; and no tradeoffs.
While these expectations are fairly universal, he said they can mean different things in different countries.
For example, when talking about personal safety, North American drivers may get a flat, pull over to the side of the road, change it and move on. They may be off a highway in a less safe situation or in a neighborhood they're not comfortable with.
“In places like Brazil, that's not necessarily the case,” Rohweder said. “You're actually worried about being kidnapped and held hostage for ransom. This whole concept of personal safety takes on a whole other meaning.”
So Ford is hampered when looking at building global platforms, where one vehicle design is sold in all markets around the world. “I can't have a really cool, high-tech solution that works in one market and package myself out of what I need in another market,” he said.
There still are a number of markets where customers expect to get a fifth full-size tire in the trunk, and not a mini spare or some other option, he said. “Probably the most important thing we see is that customers don't want to have a flat. They don't want to be inconvenienced. They accept it to some extent, but they don't really.”
Conversely, the car companies have their own set of priorities. Rohweder said that list includes reduced cost; lower weight; lower rolling resistance; improved driving attributes; ability to focus on global platforms; and regulatory compliance.
The new CAFE standards that will take effect in coming years mean that car companies will do everything they can to reduce weight and lower rolling resistance, which also impacts European laws on carbon dioxide emissions, he said.
And regulatory compliance can differ from nation to nation. “Every government has its own vision over what kind of regulations it thinks are important,” Rohweder said.
In the end, though, Ford will strive for greater customer satisfaction. “All the things on that first list of customer needs I do care about even though they don't show up at the top of my list,” he said. “And we will take drastic actions to try to improve customer satisfaction.”
Flat tires remain an issue, accounting for 27 percent of the times drivers stop while on the road, according to data Roh¼weder presented. Nearly half of those polled in a survey said someone in their household had a flat tire in the past year, and 80 percent personally had a flat in the last 10 years.
Of those, 60 percent said the flat tire was a minor inconvenience, 30 percent said it was major and 10 percent felt a risk to their safety—figures he said shifted depending on which country the driver was from.
While some argue that cell phones make spares unnecessary, Rohweder said that would mean we've reached universal cell phone coverage and have automotive service providers available 24 hours a day. “There are still a lot of places that don't have cell phone coverage, so we would strand customers,” he said.
The temporary spare remains the most prevalent technology in use. He reminded the audience there initially was a pushback on the mini spare and there are still customers in North America who don't accept them. Pickup trucks generally have full-size spares, though sometimes they are dissimilar from the OE set because of lack of tire supply.
There are some foldable, full-size spares coming out of Europe that save space but require customers to go through the process of inflating it. “On the convenience scale, this doesn't rank very high.”
He doesn't think any car makers currently are using sealant kits with chemical inflator systems as OE options instead of the spare. The best of these would be a fully automated kit, but most in North America today are semi-automatic that require drivers to perform a number of steps to make it usable.
Runflats—both of the self-supporting and insert variety—have some place in the market but haven't proven to be an answer for the masses. Rohweder said self-sealing tires are beginning to make a bit of a comeback and may help bridge the gap to get customers to realize they don't need a spare.
Non-pneumatic tires, such as Michelin's Tweel and other similar concepts, detract from the car's styling and he doesn't see these as being viable in the near future.
Looking ahead 20 to 40 years, Rohweder said the face of global transportation will be much different. If world population doubles by 2067, this will lead to huge urban centers where not everyone will be driving cars. And those that do have cars may drive a hybrid type of vehicle, and such owners today are more accepting of having temporary mobility kits in lieu of spares.
Not one solution currently available satisfies the customer and leads to the next century of needs and what is expected to be provided in terms of extended mobility, the Ford executive said.
“So there are opportunities to find something new,” he said. “The tires and vehicles of the future will not look like what you see today. My crystal ball isn't good enough to tell you what they will look like, but I'm expecting significant differences in vehicle architecture.”
The ultimate solution will provide a seamless extension of mobility, where the driver can continue on with only a minor inconvenience, Rohweder said. Until then, he foresees improvements in existing mini spare, runflat and sealant technologies.
And the only way to ever truly get rid of the spare will be to convince the next generation that is just starting to learn about cars.
“I always tell people I need to convince my children we don't need spare tires because I figure my generation is stuck,” he said. “We're pretty much not going to change.”