Focusing the efforts of research and development activities is a tough balancing act, as there are so many factors other than budget constraints that have to be accounted for.
For example, there is a big need for players in the rubber and tire industries to develop new technologies to work along with the new automotive drivetrains of the future, such as the electric and autonomous vehicles that have dominated transportation talk in recent years.
But at the same time, those projects—while the focus of much attention—are still many years away from dominating the automotive business, if that ever happens. A recent Smithers Rapra study forecasts electric vehicles will grow nine-fold in the next decade, to nearly 50 million new registrations globally in 2028. However, even at that time, the U.S. market, while showing strong growth, still only is expected to have about 5 million new EV registrations in that year.
So there is the balance of spending some of the R&D dollars with a view on the long term, but still investing to protect and change in evolutionary ways the business that will remain vital in the near term.
Chris Helsel, Goodyear's chief technology officer, said one key for his company is to change "how" it works. While the general purpose of the tire remains largely unchanged since its inception, the environment in which the tire must work is changing at an ever faster pace.
That means Goodyear works to protect its traditional tire business with its research on new components and materials, with an eye toward renewable materials. But it also embraces what he calls the "beyond tires" segment, where the connection of the tire to the road is enhanced with sensors to collect and analyze data, and use that information for predictive purposes.
New collaborations in the industry are being announced at a blistering pace. Just recently, automotive supplier Dana has become the lead investor in Hyliion, which makes batteries and software needed for electric/hybrid solutions used in trucking applications. Michelin is teaming up with Faurecia to form a joint venture to focus on automotive fuel cell technology.
Other partnerships and projects are aimed at making more of an impact in the current marketplace. Continental and Kordsa have developed an adhesive technology they said eliminates the need for resorcinol and formaldehyde, something they hope will become an industry standard. And machinery firm Steelastic has unveiled what it said is the first extruded textile body ply system, an advancement that could make smaller, more flexible tire plants a viable option.
A top R&D executive at a major tire company a few years back said his job description was simple: "Think big." With everything that is happening in the tire and rubber industry, that two-word mantra still fits.