Original article published in the March/April issue of European Rubber Journal magazine.
Comment: Will tire makers ever see the light?
While there is clearly an element of technology-push and hype around such developments, there seems little doubt that some big changes are on the way.
But how will the tire industry adapt to, for example, a shift away from individual car-ownership or – if environmental lawmakers worldwide get their way – the end of the combustion engine?
For Frank Lückgen, global marketing director at Arlanxeo’s tire rubber business, there is, at least, some reassurance in that such trends are unlikely to adversely impact materials suppliers.
“For us as a synthetic rubber producer, it is good that amid the many changes in the market, the tire will still be made out of rubber,” he commented in an interview with ERJ.
Giving his personal views, Lückgen said tires are likely to become more specialised, for example, to meet the low-rolling-resistance needs of electric vehicles, or the specific requirements of autonomous vehicles for urban or long-haul driving.
“What for me, though, is as important is the emergence of shared-driving,” said Lückgen, predicting that this will move tire-buying decisions much more on to fleet managers.
“They will look at the mileage, the safety and rolling resistance,” he said. “They will decide what is the best for their company, and where they can save money. ”
Fleet managers, he added, might not care about the brand so much: “They will take a more rational decision about how many hours a car is used each day and whether the best solution is a tire from producer A, B or C.”
This, said Lückgen, “will not just be about price [but also] about managing the whole lifetime of the tire.”
These issues were also to the fore during a panel discussion about next-generation tire technologies at this February’s Tire Tech Expo in Hanover.
For panel member Boris Mergell, senior vice president R&D passenger and light truck at Continental, electric vehicles are the future for the automotive industry.
“Combustion engines will die, everybody knows that,” said the Conti official, adding: “Tires will be tires, but there will be more segments for tires and we will need to cooperate further to better understand customer needs.”
Similarly, Michelin R&D expert Olivier Bergamaschi said tires were part of a system which is “getting more and more complex”, partly due to increased interaction between the car, its environment and the infrastructure.
“I think the solution comes from cooperation between the car and tire industries and within the tire industry itself,” said Bergamaschi. “Once you integrate all the feedback, you can reach a common answer to the important challenges.”
This view was backed by a delegate from Goodyear in the audience, who said: “We need to get over some industry habits that we have had in terms of how we protect our information.
“Collaboration means that intrinsically you have to exchange information in order to understand how to eventually link the systems together.”
On the panel, Jan Prins, technical specialist, Jaguar Land Rover said ‘new mobility‘ could offer an opportunity for tire makers to work towards delivering vehicle makers what was required. But he added that this might require something of a revolution.
As Prins remarked to the tire-makers around the table: “if any of you come up with a clever, new technology, you would probably not say to your competitors: ‘here’s a good idea, why don’t you have that.’”
Likewise, Jacob Peled, executive chairman of Pelmar Engineering believed that the tire industry is still too insular to deliver the type of collaborations being called for.
According to the industry veteran: “The day we see a cooperation between [major tire companies such as] Goodyear and Michelin, is the day the Messiah will come.”