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The future of mobility is green

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

When the rubber hits the road. Change is coming.

In mid-2020 Deloitte predicted that by 2030 EVs would account for 27% of US new car sales, considerably behind China where the 2030 EV share is predicted to be 48% and Europe where it is projected to reach 42%.

The recently elected Biden administration intends to give the electrification of the US auto industry a shot in the arm through infrastructure investment, steps which should see Deloitte’s projections comfortably beaten, especially if tax incentives are also employed to boost EV sales.

In 2020 just 2% of US auto sales were electric so even if only a quarter of new car sales are electric by 2030 the change will be dramatic and the impacts will be felt widely in the auto sector; with one fifth the number of power train parts of combustion engines and no need for oil changes, electric vehicles will require adjusted servicing protocols forcing car dealers to find new sources of profit.

EVs will also require additional skillsets when being repaired with the consequence that the accident and repair industry will need to upskill, and perhaps the largest impact of them all, EVs will require fundamentally different tires.

Heralding a new era of tires

When the EV sector finally bursts into life after decades of stagnation the tire industry will enter a new era. Tires for traditional ICE vehicle are the result of a series of trade-offs in which one set of benefits is traded off to secure another – tires that deliver high levels of vehicle handling do not last long; durable tires produce a lot of road-noise, but quiet tires create vehicle handling limitations.

Such trade-offs will be unacceptable in the future - EV tires will be more complex, and they will demand more of everything all at the same time:

  • EV tires need to withstand higher torque than their ICE counterparts; unlike in ICE vehicles, torque is generated instantly when an EVs is turned on - it is the reason EVs sprint away from a standing start. This fact of EV life requires improved wet and dry road grip capabilities which in turn requires changes in tire engineering and tread patterns.

  • More torque demands tire material that can handle it and the increasing range of EVs means that the tires must last, eliminating a common ICE tire trade-off.

  • EVs are quiet in operation so without an engine roar to disguise the tire noise generated in motion, the EV tire must be quiet in operation even when handling massive torque and running at high speeds.

Tire designers juggle more than 200 variables when creating new tires so to meet the demand for more EVs, each with their own unique driving characteristics, we can be sure that our new EVs tires will possess new and unique combinations of tread and sidewall designs, groove widths, belt arrangements and new compounds constructed in entirely new ways.

Its tires will not be the reason we choose to buy a particular EV, but these new tires will be decisive in the quality of our ownership experience.

A new show but the same cast

Paradigm shifts often provide the opportunity for new players to enter a market with innovative products better suited to the new environment than traditional players can provide.

That is not true of the tire industry which has significant barriers to entry, not least multiple legal and regulatory considerations which encompass the materials used in tire production, manufacturing process and the disposal of waste. The traditional giants of the tire industry will therefore dominate, but they saw the demands of EVs coming and are well prepared:

  • In mid-2020 Goodyear announced a breakthrough self-regenerating tire designed especially for EV use. The tire is biodegradable, uses fibers for strength inspired by spider silk and utilizes a capsule of customized liquid compound in the tire’s center that regenerates the tire as it wears.

  • Michelin took an early lead in preparing for the EV future and now provide about 45% of the tires on current Electric Vehicles including several Tesla models. And with great success they invested in R and D to develop new compounds optimized for the demands that EVs make on tires, for example they have developed a tire using a compound that minimizes heat build-up under rapid acceleration and high-speed driving, thereby enabling the tire blocks to retain sufficient rigidity to avoid bending out of shape during driving extremes. The result is an enhanced vehicle handling experience with high levels of tire durability.

The Green tire future

EVs are expected to contribute significantly to the management of global climate change and in that context, tires are a fundamentally important part of the equation; the materials used as well as the processes used in tire manufacturing and waste disposal processes can either complement or subtract from an EVs environmental impact.

In the face of strict regulations, the good news is that the tire industry acted long ago and collectively to address these core challenges – in 2005 the CEO’s of 11 major tire companies led by Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear set out to study a range of tire lifecycle issues and have done so ever since under the umbrella of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s “Tire Industry Project”. As a result, Michelin, Bridgestone, Goodyear, and Continental all have programs in place to make tires from completely sustainable materials.

Since the project began, total tire production has increased globally by more than 36% while CO2 emissions have reduced by 20% and water use by 30%.

Increasingly, alternatives to pollutants are used in the tire manufacturing process, such as sunflower oil instead of petroleum, flora-derived latex in place of rubber and oil from orange peel in place of certain toxic chemicals.

Every manufacturer spends significantly on R and D in these areas but not because they see a distinct new market emerging but instead because they see green tires as increasingly central to their entire business model.

The tire industry is more than ready to handle the coming increase in EV sales. In fact, so much so that even if the car market ignored the environmental challenge and sold only traditional ICE products, our tires would continue to become greener and greener.


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