CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio—The future of the tire industry depends on how it responds to the revolution of transport systems globally, said Surendra Chawla, senior director of external science and technology programs at Goodyear.
Chawla, in his keynote address at ITEC in Focus: Reinforcements for Tire Performance in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Sept. 13-14, outlined some factors that will continue to challenge the tire industry. These issues will remain critical for the industry to address to develop sustainability, mobility and growth, he said.
Chawla gave several key themes for the future of vehicle transport, including environmental issues such as global warming, resource conservation, pollutant reduction and improvements in recycling. Social issues include a wider range of vehicle choices, an aging population, consumer safety and security. Economic issues include manufacturing cost reduction, reduction in development time and increases in value and reduction in costs of ownership. Political themes will be some of the most important for the industry to notice in coming years, he said.
"Regulations such as fuel economy, noise control and emissions are the biggest challenge for the automobile industry, and will continue to remain so for a while," he said.
The direction of vehicle technology will continue with a focus toward advances in engine and powertrain; hybrid, electric and alternative-fueled vehicles; advanced software and sensors; advanced structures and materials; and efficient design and manufacturing processes.
"The industry in general is focusing on tires that provide ultra lightweight, low rolling resistance, improved noise and vibration, and handling. Intelligent tires that can communicate with smart vehicles of the future," Chawla said.
Tires will need to bring continued reliability and safety, including improvements in wet traction while being highly flexible, using energy-efficient manufacturing design and manufacturing methods, he said.
Those changes in tire technology will come under stricter scrutiny and regulation going forward, as tire labeling has been instituted since 2012, and in Brazil in 2016. Both the U.S. and China are expected to use similar labeling regulations in the near future, Chawla said.
Goodyear has identified four industry drivers that are shaping the company's industry strategy for the future, starting today with "Industry growing and mixing up," and moving forward to "Increasing complexity" and "Empowered consumer" by 2020. Farther into the future, "Autonomous vehicles" will impact the industry.
Different segments of available tires are becoming larger sources of profit opportunity, Chawla said. Since 2010, the 17-inch-plus segment grew by 18 percent, outpacing the overall global consumer tire market, which had grown by only 3-4 percent, a "trend that's expected to continue," he said.
For increasing complexity, Chawla pointed to the Chevy Impala, which currently requires seven different tire specifications, he said.
Also, consumers are becoming more sophisticated decision-makers, Chawla said.
"They're constantly connected," he said. "A vast amount of information is available on social media and the Internet. They have increased expectations of convenience and shopping experiences, and broader purchasing criteria.
Looking farther out, autonomous, electrical and connected vehicles will be the future of mobility. It's not a question of if, but when, there will be shifts in both who is investing and what they're investing in, he said.
"As we disrupt the traditional transport system, it has attracted the attention of both our traditional and nontraditional vehicle manufacturers with billions of dollars of investment," Chawla said.
The tire industry will be expected to undergo evolution, he said. For tires, the focus "will be on the quality of ride, such as noise and comfort," he said.
Engines for autonomous and electrical vehicles will be very different, which will change the parameters for tires. For example, the speed of an autonomous vehicle will not be 100 miles per hour.
"Autonomous vehicles are coming, customers will change, priorities will shift, customer expectations will increase, and there is no going back," Chawla said.
An additional factor for the industry is a change in the economic landscape, as China's economy is projected to catch up with the U.S. economy by 2019 or 2020, he said.
"It is right on target," he said. "The U.S. is at $15 trillion to $16 trillion, China is about $12 trillion. You can project it and see it will catch up pretty soon."
Asia also is a leader in overall motor vehicle production worldwide, he said. The average tire demand globally is expected to grow at about 4 percent through 2022. Asia will grow at about 6 percent, with China increasing by about 7.5 percent.
As the tire industry evolves, manufacturers will continue to develop and expand into solutions with nanotechnology, smart and responsive materials, natural materials, molecular modeling, biomimicry, manufacturing flexibility, sensors and data analytics. No single entity in the industry will have the bandwidth to tackle these challenges alone, Chawla said.
"We will need to question new approaches with a different mindset," he said. "It is imperative that the global network for research and development evolve."
One area of research for Goodyear is the use of rice husk ash to create tire-grade silica. Rice husk ash, a byproduct of rice harvesting, can be used as an environmentally friendly, low-cost alternative to highly dispersible silica in tire tread compounds. Goodyear launched a product using RHA in 2016, and currently is working on developing capacity with partners, said Chawla.
As the future approaches, the tire industry will remain relevant to the automotive ecosystem and continue to grow.
"That's the good news," he said. "It will continue to grow and become more complex, and put an even bigger premium on service and offer continued profit pool expansions."
To overcome future obstacles and benefit from those industry megatrends, the tire industry will need to innovate and cooperate, Chawla said.