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Vehicle technology is changing very rapidly and so is tyre technology. New kinds of vehicles create new challengers for tyremakers, while new material research and tyre designs are creating greener more sustainable products. The major manufacturers are under pressure to invest in tyres for the future and to find ways to better connect tyres to maintenance facilities and roads.

EVs, AVs And AndGo

Electric vehicles create new challenges for tyres. “For Tesla, we added foam in the tyres to make them quieter, because electric vehicles are quiet and you can hear the tyres,” says Richard J. Kramer, CEO of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. “From EV to AV Goodyear continues to innovate.”

In January it, announced a new venture capital fund, Goodyear Ventures. It’s investing up to $100 million in future mobility solutions over the next ten years for electric and autonomous vehicles, new mobility and new material research.

It’s also announced AndGo a service platform that uses predictive software to connect fleets with its Goodyear service network. Goodyear is researching all kinds of tyre concepts and materials.

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Goodyear, at the Mcity Test Facility in Michigan, is researching electric and autonomous vehicles for intelligent tyres with sensors. Goodyear is supplying its intelligent tyres with embedded sensors via Redspher’s shared services platform called Rubiwin. The pilot program outfits delivery and service vans with intelligent tyres that collect data.

One interesting Goodyear concept tyre is named Oxygene, which has living moss growing within the sidewall. The tyre’s smart tread and open design circulate moisture and water from the road surface, enabling photosynthesis and adding oxygen into the air.

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Materials from Sustainable Sources

Waste from processing rice husk ash converted into silica is used in Goodyear tyres in China. Goodyear worked with the United Soybean Board to develop soybean oil in tyres to increase performance. Soybean oil helps the tyres remain flexible in cold weather increasing traction in rain and snow. Soybean oil mixes more easily with rubber reducing energy use in production,

The materials and location of tyre production are also very important to tyre production. Rubber is typically produced in tropical areas that have to be shipped all over the world.

“There is a Russian dandelion plant which has in its latex the same DNA as natural rubber,” says, Nikolai Setzer, member of the executive board Continental’s automotive divisions and former head of the tyre division.

“We developed this and planted and extracted the latex. We have proven that the tyres are performing in the same way as natural rubber grown in other ways.”

An added advantage is that dandelions grow like crazy and are not in competition with other agriculture crops because they can grow on minor grounds that don’t produce food. They don’t need a lot of sunshine or water to grow adds Setzer. The project is called Taraxa Gum after the Taraxacum kok-saghyz the botanical name for the plants that can grow Northern and Western Europe.

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Letting the Air Out of Tyres

Maintaining air pressure in tyres and flat tyres cause downtime and problems for all vehicles. Therefore airless tyres are rolling into some markets.

Goodyear has been developing non-pneumatic technologies since the 1970s when it helped in the development of tires for NASA’s Apollo lunar roving vehicle. In 2018, Goodyear began offering non-pneumatic tyres (NPT) for zero-turn radius mowers called the Goodyear TurfCommand with DuraWeb Technology.

For the Tokyo Olympics, 2020, bicycles with Bridgestone non-pneumatic air free tyres will be available in the Olympic Village as transportation.

“We’ve got bicycle tyres, tyres for personal mobility devices, ATV (All-Terrain-Vehicle) tyres, We’ve got commercial fleet applications for commercial truck eighteen-wheelers,” says Kory Smith, manager, new concept engineering at Bridgestone. Its advanced air free tyres are made of different composites depending on the use.

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The Pneumatic Feeling

The advantage of not having air in the tyres is ‘no more flat tyres’. But it’s also good for commercial applications and commercial fleets. Fleets spend a lot of time just maintaining the air pressure in the tyres that are running. If tyres are not maintained they have uneven wear and poor fuel economy.

Big fleets have people who are dedicated to maintaining tyres. With commercial fleets, downtime is lost money. 

“It’s a safety aspect as well, you don’t want a big truck on the side of the road and you don’t want to be changing a tyre on the side of the road. You want to keep going,” says Smith, who notes that the tyres are designed to have an equivalent stiffness to a pneumatic tyre, giving the same feel as a pneumatic tyre. The mileage and life rating is also equivalent to pneumatic tyres.

For commercial applications, the air free tyres are designed to be retreaded, just like a normal commercial truck tyre. Right now the commercial application is appropriate for non-pneumatic tyres. With big fleets there is value. Smith notes that air free tyres still require some maintenance such rotation, balancing and alignment.

Bridgestone advanced air free tyres for cars and trucks are still in the concept phase and not available for purchase at this time.

Michelin Airless for Many Markets

Michelin has been testing and slowly bringing airless tyres to market for decades.

“Michelin has been working on airless tyre concepts for twenty years, We continue to expand our portfolio for airless tyres for commercial and light construction applications. As we expand that portfolio for the Tweel range we are also advancing the technology for passenger vehicles through the co-development program with GM,” says Eric Bruner, director, external communications at Michelin North America.

Michelin’s first non-pneumatic product was launched in October 2012, Michelin X Tweel SSL for skid-steer loaders. On January 29, the company announced Michelin X Tweel Turf Comfort, airless tyres for golf carts and stand-on mowers.

“Those were the most commercially viable markets for the product in the early stages. It’s the best business plan because of the zero downtime and no loss of productivity for vehicles such as lawnmowers or tractors.”

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“The next critical advancement for auto safety and performance.”

Michelin revealed its airless car tyre concept called UPTIS (Unique Puncture-Proof Tyre System), last year, that they call airless wheel structure technology. Michelin is partnering with GM to bring UPTIS to market as early as 2024.

Michelin reports that 200 million tyres are scrapped each year which is about the weight of 200 Eiffel Towers. 20% of tyres are scrapped annually due to puncture or irregular wear due to incorrect tyre pressure. Along with being great for passenger and autonomous vehicles, UPTIS will reduce the use of raw materials and waste.

“Michelin is a company that thinks long time about consumer safety, consumer value and sustainable mobility,” says Bruner.

“The introduction of UPTIS airless for passenger vehicles, represents the next critical advancement for auto safety and performance.”

He says UPTIS prototype testing and development are ongoing on the Chevrolet Bolt EV in the United States.

The UPTIS prototype balances highway speed, rolling resistance, mass, comfort and noise, in the balance of performances. It is most comparable to a zero-pressure tyre because when you take the air of the tyre you have the optimal contact path between the tyre and the roadway surface, says Bruner.

So far, regulations have not caught up with airless tyre technology, yet.

“We are pursuing the regulatory process to test this prototype on the open road in every state,” says Bruner.

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