Las Vegas — Bridgestone Corp. expects its "airless tire" technology to be commercially available soon — but probably not in the way auto makers assume.
The Japanese company wants to get its non-pneumatic tire technology into the hands of commercial truck owners rather than onto ordinary passenger vehicles.
The tires — shown for the first time recently at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month — use a recycled thermoplastic "web" as their core, replacing the pressurized air of traditional tires.
Bridgestone said it has developed and is preparing to market large tires that can support 5,000 pounds of weight.
The company first plans to launch a smaller and lighter version of them on ordinary bicycles, providing a fleet of airless-tire-equipped bikes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Bridgestone is the official tire maker.
Bridgestone will, more or less, skip over the world's passenger vehicle market and dive into producing the tires for commercial trucks, Jon Kempel, executive director for new mobility solution engineering at Bridgestone Americas, told Automotive News at the CES.
It's not so much a question of where the volume is, Kempel explained, it's a matter of where the need is and where the interest is.
Truck fleet operators, he said, are driving the new technology.
"Fleet operators are asking us for these," Kempel said. "This technology solves a problem for the, and it saves them money. Their job is to keep their trucks on the road, and you can't do that when your tires are not properly inflated.
"On the truck side," he added, "there's an air-related issue every 8,000 miles. If they've got a truck that's not running, it's costing them money."
The global truck market is smaller than the original equipment passenger vehicle market, but Kempel said that trucking still is a substantial business that needs innovative solutions.
Japan-based Bridgestone is the world's largest tire producer, according to ERJ's Global Tire Report. Last year, it manufactured an estimated 180 million tires.
Bridgestone exhibited this year for the first time at the CES, hoping to promote its work in mobility solutions, the company said prior to the start of the show.
In addition to the airless tire prototypes shown at the exhibition, Bridgestone also showcased its "smart" tire technology for enhanced safety and "Webfleet" solutions for more efficient transportation.