Rudi Hein knows a thing or two about runflats. He spent 32 years on special project teams at BMW, with a particular emphasis on runflat tire systems. He also spent a decade at Bridgestone as executive adviser on standards and regulations.
Now a retired independent tire expert, Hein spoke at the recent Tire Technology Expo in Hanover, Germany, on tires with emergency running characteristics, giving a particular spotlight on runflats.
In a world where more vehicles are produced without spares, many thought runflats would have grown more by now. Hein recalled one long-ago forecaster who said by 2013 about 80 percent of vehicles in Western Europe would be equipped with runflats.
That remains far from the case, however. Hein, who was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the expo, said while roughly a third of new vehicles no longer have a spare, runflats came on only 5.1 percent of vehicles in 2018. Conversely, about 1 percent came with a sealant kit and 26.3 percent with a repair kit. Hein said the kits grew quickly because they are the cheapest option, despite being difficult for non-technicians to use.
When first introduced, runflats were touted because of the inherent safety, including not having to change a flat tire in a dangerous situation. But the costs were high and the ride not up to par, though Hein said the comfort factor has improved significantly.
Other hurdles have been eliminated, as runflat tires are manufactured around the world, and Bridgestone's Driveguard tire is an aftermarket offering that can be fit on nearly any passenger vehicle, not just the high-end models that dominate OEM usage.
There are lessons to be learned from the slow market acceptance of runflats. Foremost among these, Hein said, is even more than two decades after introduction, customers still have little knowledge about the high safety factor related to having runflat tires.
Perhaps a new perspective for runflat tires, he said, could emerge in combination with autonomous driving. Or runflats, like previous alternative tire concepts, could remain on the edge of the mainstream tire market, or disappear completely.