Opinion

How the tire industry has changed for the better

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The tire industry has changed over the past 70 years.

Far more to tires than industry recruits expect

It’s part of my job to talk to the new “technical people” who join our company and explain the history of tires. Sharing the changes our industry has seen over the years is something I really enjoy.

It is often easier for those “technical people” to understand the history of the changes in tire technology than it is for those who are long established tire people. Don’t get me wrong, I started installing tires when I was 17 years old and I am now 56, so I am one of the “established tire people” myself.

Let’s look at the example of tire ply, which you need to understand to work out the suitability of a tire to a specific vehicle. A short history takes us from physical, actual ply tires during World War II, through ply ratings as the introduction of rayon and other synthetic materials came into existence, to the load and speed ratings used in the modern tire.

I expect tire improvement, in part, drove improvements in vehicle technology — and vice versa. It is hard to imagine how a modern car would perform on the old cross ply tires. I expect the speed limits around the country would be reduced dramatically and even then road tragedy would increase from where it is today.

Technological improvements have changed the industry

Things are still changing at a fast pace — perhaps an even faster pace than our review of history indicates. There are several new technologies that are driving the way we think about tires. The introduction of electric vehicles, driverless cars, pollution reduction and fuel economy are just a few things that will affect the way tires are involved in our lives into the future.

I was reading an article recently that substantial U.S. Government interest is being invested in creating cheaper ways to mill aluminum, with a major interest in using such technology for cars. A lighter vehicle built with aluminum will have substantial benefits in many areas — fuel economy, pollution reduction, road safety and reduced road trauma when an accident does occur. At the end of its life the vehicle will be recycled. No rusting or degeneration of the steel. A change like this would have a far-reaching effect on the tire industry. There would be less tire wear and no need for higher-load-carrying tires. Better still, another recent technology shows that a combination of graphene and aluminum allows for fast and effective storage of electricity, making the car itself the potential battery.

Vehicles becoming more computerized and connected

The vehicle is changing and it will draw tire technology and supply development along with it. Vehicles will increasingly become computerized and connected. There are examples of this that we see now in our industry in small ways. We think these technologies will grow in importance for tire manufacturers, distributors, dealers and even regulators. We already see that a modern vehicle monitors the tire pressures through the introduction of TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems) and I expect over time the on-board computers in modern vehicles will participate more in understanding the tire’s contribution to the vehicle’s handling and performance.

The computers will understand traction, fuel economy and wear rate and relate that to the driving conditions. I expect there will be protective behaviors of the vehicle that may be mandated or sold as safety aspects. You can already buy vehicles now that will help you avoid forward impacts in spite of a driver’s intention, for example. I expect a vehicle will start to limit speed, apply cruise control or require a higher separation between the vehicle and potential forward hazards. The vehicle will look for advantages in safety, economy and pollution output.

The tire industry outlook is positive

But rather than a negative in the industry, I expect this to be positive. Tires will be built that have different characteristics, enhancing vehicle performances by meeting the vehicle’s on-board computer’s demands. A driver will be more likely to pay higher prices for tires because it has a compounding effect on the performance of the vehicle itself.

We “established tire people” have always known tires are a large part of a vehicle’s performance. I expect we take that for granted. I see the spark of interest from the new “technical people” who join us. There’s far more to tires than they expected when they signed on. After all these years in the tire industry, I am most happy when I hear a “technical person” explaining, “this tire would be better suited because…”.

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