The tires of tomorrow will look much like the tires of today. Maybe.
Will they be black? Probably, but not necessarily.
Will they be round? Most certainly.
Will they hold air? That all depends.
Just as today's tires share certain similarities with yesteryear's, tomorrow's will be the same as today's. In some respects.
Those with graying hair can remember the transition from bias ply tires to radials. But to the uninitiated, a tire over the years has looked like a tire for the most part, regardless of its construction.
Just as the introduction of radials fundamentally changed how most tires are produced and perform, the market for future tires will see improvements that will take travel into the next generation and beyond.
As CEO of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, Anne Forristall Luke takes a big-picture approach when discussing the future of tires. And it's really more than just about tires.
"We're not just talking about tires anymore," she said. "We're talking about mobility solution strategies."
"Tires have always been connectors. Connecting people to economic opportunity and life experience through travel and mobility. And, now, that dynamic of being a connector especially is more fully coming to life than ever before," she said.
Essentially, Luke said, tires no longer can be viewed as, well, tires. They can and will serve an integral part of changes in mobility that will impact the environment and society as a whole.
Tire companies should no longer be thought of as merely suppliers, but instead partners with both car makers and consumers that help connect. "Now we think in terms of network, the platforms, smart infrastructure, smart tires," she explained.
Kind of like tire pressure monitoring systems that communicate with vehicles to help drivers know when it's time for some routine maintenance. Except more. So much more.
"We're evolving into completely new domains and new business models," Luke said.
Rick Cunat is managing director at Kumho Americas Technical Center.
"Tire technology will continue to advance at a much faster pace in the future. Materials, construction and intelligent tire technology have all been worked on for years in search of the breakthrough technology that will change the industry," he said.
"Since the performance requirements for tires are very challenging and many of them counteract each other, breakthroughs or major shifts have not happened often," Cunat said. "In many of these performance requirements, tires will remain the same except for air pressure. Most tire companies have been working on non-pneumatic tires. These have been applied to lawn mowers, ATVs, farm equipment. … But the application for passenger/light truck vehicles has been a challenge."
At Bridgestone Americas, Hans Dorfi is vice president of core engineering at a time when both his company and the entire industry are experiencing what he said is unprecedented change.
"Our overall approach to innovation is changing. We are building a product and solutions portfolio that is dynamic, modular and connected. In the past, we have focused on making products by ourselves. Now and in the future, we will co-create solutions with market leaders through partnerships and other strategic opportunities," Dorfi said.
But change takes time, and usually comes incrementally, he said.
"There have certainly been breakthrough moments in tire history like the radial tire, run-flat tires, and the introduction of silica in tread compounds. However, most technological progress is also made through incremental changes in material science, application technology, data science and market research," Dorfi said.