An insight into tomorrow’s tires
It has certainly been a period of “show time” in Europe in the past couple of months with the internationally prestigious Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, following February’s Tire Technology Expo in Germany (which I reported on in the March edition of MTD).
However, this article is not about another show, as my reason for attending this event was to capitalize on the perfect opportunity to meet and discuss the future with most of the global tire market’s leading manufacturers.
Traditionally, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Bridgestone Corp., Continental AG, Pirelli & Cie SpA, Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. and Apollo Vredestein B.V. have exhibited at the motor show, because it is the perfect stage to promote their latest original equipment patterns alongside the very latest vehicle marque designs. Therefore, I spent time at the show, having arranged appointments with each tire producer, to find out about their latest developments.
At the Goodyear booth, I met with Xavier Fraipont, director of tire technology in consumer tires in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who was keen to point out the innovative benefits of two ground-breaking concept patterns on display that could radically change the perception of passenger car tires in the future. Fraipont said, “Our two new futuristic tire concepts — the BH03 and the Triple Tube — look set to ‘stretch the imagination’ and provide a tantalizing glimpse of what practical innovations could be on the horizon for the global tire industry.”
The Goodyear BH03 offers the possibility of charging the batteries of futuristic electric cars by transforming the heat and deformation generated by the rolling tire into electrical energy. In effect, the BH03 will generate electricity through the action of piezoelectric and thermoelectric materials in the tire that respectively transform deformation and heat energy created by the rolling tire into electricity. Xavier also stated, “With the demand for electric cars continuing to grow, our BH03 technology has the exciting potential to significantly enhance the solution of future mobility challenges.”
Meanwhile, the Goodyear Triple Tube concept tire consists of three internal air chambers located beneath the tread area and close to the inboard and outboard shoulders of the tire. The function of the Triple Tube revolves around an internal pump that circulates air from the main air chamber to three individual air chambers/tubes, enabling the tire to automatically adjust to the three different positions/shapes — eco/safety, sporty and wet traction — according to the road conditions at the time.
The eco/safety shape creates equal inflation in all three tubes for reduced rolling resistance, while the sporty shape reduces inflation within the inboard shoulder tube to ensure dry handling through an optimized tread contact patch. Finally, the wet traction shape maximizes inflation in the center tube to give high aquaplaning resistance through a raised tread in the center of the tire.
When I interviewed Gert Meylemans, Bridgestone Europe’s head of PR and corporate communications, he was keen to mention the company’s next chapter in reaffirming the profile of its iconic Firestone brand in Europe with the recent launch of the Firestone “Multiseason” range, which is the brand’s first venture into the “all-season” segment in Europe. He said, “Although the Firestone brand is famous in North America, it has held a relatively low profile in Europe over the past 15 years until its re-emergence last year with the Firestone Destination HP range for SUV vehicles.”
The Firestone Multiseason tire is specifically promoted as a mid-segment brand, which has been specially manufactured for Europe to particularly excel in all weather conditions when fitted to small- and medium-sized cars primarily doing urban driving in cities and towns and areas renowned for consistently bad weather conditions. The Firestone Multiseason also provides impressive wet grip and excellent hydroplaning resistance and will be available in Europe in July in nine sizes from 13 up to 16 inches.
Meylemans also spoke about Bridgestone’s Ecopia EP500 ecologic tire, which is currently fitted to the BMW i3 electric car. The tire presents a distinctive large tire diameter and narrow tread design for impressive advancements in aerodynamics, rolling resistance and improved grip performance.
Finally, I examined Bridgestone’s AirFree Concept, a non-pneumatic tire incorporating spokes thread through the rubber, which requires no maintenance as there is no air, making it a fully “‘cradle to grave” solution that maximizes the recycling of worn tires.
Next on my visiting agenda was Continental. I chatted with Alexander Bahlmann, head of media and PR for the European tire division, who explained that taking center stage on the booth was the new Conti.eContact range, which was recently introduced as the first tire from Continental to have been specifically designed for hybrid cars.
Bahlmann said, “Our new Conti.eContact range is also the first summer tire to be graded an A rating in wet grip and rolling resistance within the European tire labeling legislation and is initially available in six size options in 17 and 18 inches with a V rating. With hybrid cars now increasingly popular on a global basis, we are ready to further develop this tire concept of a unique vehicle segment.”
Another big crowd-puller at the Continental booth was a vehicle fitted with Conti’s much publicized dandelion tire concept. Alexander said, “So far, this revolutionary dandelion compound has been incorporated on our latest WinterContact TS 850P tire and successfully tested on wet and dry road surfaces, as well as on snow and ice.”
When I visited the Yokohama booth, I was met by David Andrew Oliva, communications manager, marketing department for the Replacement Business Division, Yokohama Europe GmbH, who informed me that Yokohama was launching its very latest highway terrain tire, the H/T GO56 for 4x4/SUV vehicles, within its popular Geolandar brand.
The Geolandar H/T GO56 will become available in the next few months and has been exclusively produced for Europe. During the development stage of the tire, Yokohama conducted a survey of all European countries, with results indicating that various markets were looking for specific performances in wet braking, tread wear and handling. The results were taken into account when the tire was being manufactured.
Oliva told me, “Our GO56 tire offers a unique compound which features ‘orange oil’ that improves wet grip and significantly shortens wet braking distances in European weather conditions. It also reduces low rolling resistance, improves pass-by-noise to meet current European standards, plus an innovative tread design which incorporates new advanced technology that will enhance wear performance and drive comfort.”
The Geolandar H/T GO56 will initially become available in 25 size options from 15 up to 20 inches, and completes Yokohama’s comprehensive line-up of 4x4/SUV tires for Europe.
At the Pirelli booth, I spoke with Matteo Battaini, senior vice president for sales planning and supply chain, and Andrea Casaluci, operational marketing director, and learned about the company’s “Seal Inside” technology, which forms part of Pirelli’s “Extended Mobility” philosophy.
Battaini explained that Seal Inside allows motorists to continue driving without loss of tire pressure following a puncture of up to 4 mm. A sealing agent on the inside of the tire, once activated, solidifies around the foreign object that has caused the puncture to prevent air escaping. Also, once the object has been removed, the sealing agent expands to plug the gap. This latest technology is a further example of Pirelli’s total commitment to safety innovation.
Casaluci also pointed out that during the course of 2014, Pirelli introduced 266 new homologations, with 213 for the premium and prestige vehicle sectors. The company now hold a record 1,846 current homologations on a global basis.
Finally, at the Apollo Vredestein booth a company spokesman pointed out that during the past 12 months, Apollo has had an extremely active trading period. That includes setting up of a greenfield production facility in Hungary to support its main manufacturing plant in The Netherlands, which has reached maximum capacity. The new Hungarian plant will play an important roll in the future, with product demand expected to significantly increase in 2015.
So, although I was attending a motor show, it proved to be the perfect stage to witness the tires of tomorrow all under one roof. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own consulting company, Sapphire Media Services, which caters to business media clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.
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