Is it possible to build a truly "green" ultra-high performance tire? Yes, but it isn't easy, according to Dan Guiney, director of technical services for Yokohama Tire Corp.
Fuel efficiency is on customers' minds like never before, and a rapidly growing number of performance tire buyers are becoming cognizant of the impact of tires on their cars' fuel consumption.
From an engineering standpoint, this puts tire manufacturers in a challenging position, Guiney recently told me. "The set of things a person looks for in a performance tire is pretty well-defined. Those factors don't change.
"I think it's more a case of what engineers can do to maintain those levels of performance while using alternative, non-petroleum-based materials and other new technologies that still yield the performance that the customer is expecting but have less of an impact on the environment."
Building a fuel efficient tire goes beyond obvious components like compounding to encompass everything that goes into a tire's structure. "We're learning how to take weight out of the tire -- using different profile shapes and design structures to reduce the weight of the material in the tread area -- and (are working on) things that improve performance with less tread depth."
It's a concept whose time has come thanks in no small part to the federal government's plan to rank tires according to their rolling resistance, plus other factors like tread wear and wet traction.
How it all plays out remains to be seen. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is holding a public meeting in Washington on March 26 to solicit feedback about its proposed consumer education program that would relay the government's rankings to tire buyers.
It's safe to say that as time goes on, customers will continue to expect more from their tires. It's up to the tire manufacturers to deliver the whole ball of wax (er, rubber) while minimizing the many trade-offs that have been an inherent part of pneumatic tire design since the days of John Boyd Dunlop.
And of course, it's up to you, the tire dealer, to bring it all home to the tire buyer in terms that are easy to understand. Based on what I've learned about NHTSA's proposed tire ranking (and labeling) system, I'm afraid it's going to be one big, complex job -- something, in my opinion, that was never needed in the first place. But that's another blog...