Yurkovich has been with Cooper Tire since July 2005 and is responsible for leading the company's technical organizations on three continents in development, maintenance and improvement of new products and technologies for all product lines.
He held a number of technical, marketing and managerial positions with Good-year for 33 years prior to joining Cooper. During that time he's seen a lot of change and expects to see continued raw material supply and price volatility driven by world population growth, which he said is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by mid-century.
Yurkovich said emerging middle class economies are growing, and vehicle demand will follow, which means demand for tires also will increase dramatically during the next several decades. Yurkovich said it is estimated 1 billion vehicles were in use worldwide in 2010, and that number is expected to double by 2030.
"What we do as tire people and how we do it is very different than it was in the early 1970s," Yurkovich said. "Although tires are still round and black to consumers, they're dramatically different than they were in that time frame."
With more people commanding resources, Yurkovich said it will be more critical for companies to use what they have more efficiently. He said that if the world's natural resources are evenly distributed, people in 2050 only will have 25 percent of the resources per capita that they had in 1950.
"As population growth strains our resources, there are fewer resources to go around," Yur-kovich said. "As a result we are seeing worldwide legislation and pressure to reduce the carbon footprint and improve sustainability of resources."
Most of that legislation forces companies to use technology that is environmentally friendly, developed and conserves natural resources. Tire labeling is becoming more the norm in the industry throughout the world. Yurkovich said it is possible in the future all tire manufacturers will be required to have lifecycle assessment mo--dels.
The feedstock for most of the industry's polymers and other chemicals are derived mostly from oil. Yurkovich said crude oil price vol-atility is very evident. He attributes much of the recent price swings to unrest and conflicts in the Middle East. Political and military upheavals, a boycott of Iranian crude oil in response to its nuclear weapons program and the risk of terrorists attacks all have contributed to the instability of oil markets.
"We'll need to develop new technology and raw material sourcing that puts our products on a much more affordable level and in a good cost position even during times of economic downturn," Yurkovich said. "And all this must be accomplished with no trade-off in performance or compromise in safety or durability."
TKS—the Russian dandelion—and guayule are two viable sources of natural rubber. Yurkovich said he could see a non-Hevea-based tire on the market.
"Ultimately we're looking at developing a product that replaces all of the natural and synthetic rubber that's in a tire," Yurkovich said. "If you could do that, then obviously you cut down on reliance on raw materials that are very volatile."
Cooper is looking at developing lighter weight, more efficient products. In doing so, it is able to get more mileage out of its materials.
"If you have a tire that weighs 10 or 20 percent less than today's product but performs as good or better than today's product, that's a great thing because you have a superior level performance with lower level of weight," Yurkovich said.
Evolving auto configurations will continue to push the limits of technology, Yurkovich said. The executive anticipates tire manufacturers having to add eight or 10 more attributes to the performance polygon of traction, wear and rolling resistance with no sacrifice in performance.
Consumers will expect new materials to be produced with green technology, superior quality and costs that both original equipment manufacturers and average consumers can afford.
Future tires will need to match hybrids better—electric or compressed gas-based drivetrain vehicles—which will require tire advancements in the reduction of mass, noise and durability. Yurkovich said these attributes will require new polymers, fillers and tire cord reinforcements.
Intelligent tires are on the horizon. According to Yurkovich, sensors incorporated in tires will be able to measure tire pressure, temperature, g-force, load and other operational parameters. These tires will be able to communicate with computerized tire pressure monitoring systems, antilock braking systems and electronic stability control systems to adjust tire pressure to optimize fuel efficiency, handling and safety.
Sensors may be mounted in the tread of the tire to detect road condition changes, such as track coefficient relationships from winter ice and so fourth, and use this information to optimize vehicle track and handling.
"Advances in chip technology are making it affordable—from a reality standpoint—to allow the tire to be smarter and more reactive to operating conditions in the future," Yurkovich said.