AKRON—From Bridgestone Americas Inc.'s perspective, six agents of change will impact the future of the tire and rubber industry.
And the company takes those factors into account as it works to develop the tires of the future at its Americas Technical Center in Akron, according to Steven Charles, vice president of product development for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
The change agents it has identified are advancements in technology; regulatory movements; the need for environmental sustainability; the pursuit of automated driving; shifts in global demographics; and changes in societal behaviors.
Of course, these changes may go at different paces, lead the tire maker on a different course or not develop to the extent projected, so the firm must cover a variety a bases when prioritizing research and development projects.
“There's never one complete direction, so you have to make sure you leverage a fair amount of them so you can be prepared should one go strong one way or another,” said Charles, who's based at the Akron technical center.
Among the agents of change, he explained how each may impact the future of tire development during a speech at the recent International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers annual meeting as well as in a follow-up interview.
For example, the shift in global demographics will see the middle class growing from an estimated 5 percent of world population in 2005 to 25 percent in 2030, with China alone adding 1 billion to the middle class. This means there will be a significant increase in the number of people able to own vehicles worldwide, he said.
The world also is getting older, with 800 million people currently greater than 60 years old. That number is forecast to reach 1 billion by 2024 and 2 billion by 2050. Charles said elderly drivers likely will favor comfort over speed, will want some degree of autonomous control and will buy vehicles intended for shorter journeys.
And the rise of millennials has led some of the changes in societal behaviors, according to the Bridgestone executive. As a group, they tend to drive significantly less than previous generations, are more likely to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods, and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation.
Of course, while Bridgestone is balancing all of these potential agents of change, it also continues to work on tires that meet the needs of today's car and vehicle market.