How Technology Can Meet Opportunities in the Global Tire Industry

March 18, 2019

The automotive industry is evolving faster than ever. Technological, economic, and engineering trends each play a part in shaping the global automotive marketplace. And because no single factor is pushing the wave of evolution, it’s equally challenging to meet both consumer needs and industry demands.

Change can mean challenge for all auto component manufacturers, including tire producers. Global markets and shifting social dynamics are pushing for more efficient, intelligent, and autonomous vehicles, which create a need for a smarter tire. Tire companies are investing in adaptation to the automotive landscape of the future, which means meeting the changing demands for durability, data collection and lower rolling resistance. They can start by assessing the following possibilities and the ways in which they can respond.

Electric vehicle market share. Germany made headlines recently when its government voted to ban internal combustion engines by 2030. China continues to invest heavily in electric vehicle development. One result of legislation and environmental initiatives is the ongoing increase in the number of electric cars sold across the world. Though doing away with combustion engines might be a lower priority in the United States, there are potential market forces that will drive the popularity of electric vehicles with consumers.

For the tire development process, this calls for greater focus on higher torque and meeting increased load demands. Load, specifically, is a major consideration due to a need for heavier batteries to support increased vehicle range. On the other side of the equation, improved rolling resistance can be used to increase vehicle range.

To meet these needs, tire companies can develop a tire testing program with an emphasis on durability, rolling resistance, air retention, and tread wear. Benchmarking current designs against new formulations or competitive offerings can allow companies the ability to zero in on the attributes that can better meet the unique needs of electric vehicles.

Higher level autonomous vehicles. Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles will be able to perform most of the functions of a driver on their own. Increased capability is a convenience for consumers, but the implications are complicated.

  • A mostly or fully automated driving style will be noticeably different from a human-controlled one, and these altered driving patterns will call for different tire assessments. In theory, the computer will not make as many evasive maneuvers and may drive at slower speeds than human drivers, lessening the effects of certain forces and moments.
  • In an autonomous system, the tire is the first contact with the road and a potential point of failure.
  • In addition, when the driver is not concentrating on physically driving the vehicle, they can be focused on other activities, diminishing the “feel” for the drive and road.

Research and development departments may put measurements like ride and handling lower on the list of priorities in favor of more critical considerations, like air retention and durability.

As autonomous vehicles are developed, it is assumed that most will be driven by an electric drivetrain.

Because of this, the factors noted above will also come into play for an autonomous vehicle. This will pose some interesting tradeoffs and design challenges for engineers as they try to meet the durability, rolling resistance, and handling requirements.

Intelligent tire development. For a vehicle that utilizes any level of computerized system, data gathered from the road can make driving safer and smoother. What better way to communicate road conditions than through the meeting place of the vehicle and the road? Intelligent tires can relay traction, inflation, temperature and wear information to a car’s central computer, allowing it to influence stopping, braking, and acceleration, while understanding safe operating parameters.

While intelligent tires can improve the driving experience, they also call for more scrutiny during testing. The weight and placement of sensors could meaningfully impact a tire’s performance. Durability of the sensors themselves should also be assessed. Tire companies should evaluate force and moment, temperature, and dynamic impact data when seeking to create a suitable intelligent tire.

With so many market dynamics potentially driving conflicting tire design and formulation requirements, it can be difficult to manage during the product development process. Tire companies can apply scenario planning for each of these potential market demands in order to react quickly when the trend becomes a market reality. ■

Dr. James Popio, vice president North America for Smithers Rapra (, has spent 20 years working for and/or with tire companies, tire dealers, automotive OEMs, industry suppliers, manufacturers, standards organizations and government agencies.

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