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Industry Opinion

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What do lightbulbs and tires have in common?

Have you noticed what has happened to light bulbs recently, particularly within Europe? It may be worth the tire industry doing research on the subject because there are a number of parallels between the two industries.

In the 1950s, 150W bulbs were used and blew regularly. Today a room of equal size is often lit with four 4-6W bulbs giving an equal luminescence and guaranteed to last 25,000 hours.

The light bulb industry now produces a product that lasts many times longer and uses a fraction of the wattage so that a saving of US$12 per year per bulb can be made. The one negative is that such bulbs do cost four times more than the older designs, which have been effectively banned through EU legislation.

It is easy to see the closeness in the marketing of light bulbs and tires. Today, tires are becoming greener and use less fuel through lower rolling resistance. The target of many companies is to reduce this further by 50%. There is also the realization, by some manufacturers at least, that tires that last the service life of the car are feasible and may not be the marketing disaster many have thought. The arguments against increasing tire cost are being countered by new technologies that reduce fuel consumption and improve sustainability.

The customer has a real choice regarding the tire fitment. Up until now, the choice has mainly been one of price and quality. In selected markets the customer can select a tire made with 100% ‘green’ materials, yet with comparable performance to the current market standard. Choice can be seen to have the potential for growth in, for example, the selection of tires with a 50% rolling reduction. Another tire property that could be seen as desirable to certain customers could be high mileage. Choice will be one of technology and performance against price.

This may be enough change, but there is more. Look again at the light bulb counter and the range of bulbs on sale. Over the past decades, the tire industry has marketed progressively lower aspect ratio tires that have little technical advantage for the majority of vehicle designs. This trend was then modified to bring in higher wheel diameters and more recently there have been moves back to higher aspect ratio tires of higher wheel diameter.

These changes have enabled the tire industry to retain profitability, but the changes hardly match the technology improvements in the light bulb industry. What can we expect from the tire industry after the energy-saving and long-life tire is introduced?

The answer is in the making of this new generation of tires with the added advantage of being more specifically designed for the vehicle performance envelope. Size and aspect ratio are obvious, so is tread pattern directionality and asymmetry. We are approaching a time where the tire and vehicle can be designed to be an integrated unit and where the driver may specify the degree of technology he or she believes is right for the vehicle.

Such a range of choices may include different tires for front and rear axles and TPMS, but we might envisage tread depth or tire-to-road-friction monitoring, and tire fatigue warning. Most importantly, in the future, we could envisage the choice of tire performance through the combination of electronic control of the tire’s inflation pressure and the dynamic stiffness of tire sidewalls and the breaker package, coupled with the related suspension setting changes.

We may also envisage the use of the rotating tire as an energy collector (note Goodyear’s recent BH03 concept, p46) and, along with other vehicle energy scavenging approaches, this could aid the efficiency of electric vehicles. Already sufficient power can be generated for some of the vehicle lights.

There will be changes to the marketing of the tire as its specified role becomes closer to the vehicle’s selected performance. We will see the tire as part of the vehicle specification and any replacement needed will be purchased through the vehicle service facilities.

Returning to light bulbs, we should note the moves by the EU to remove inefficient products from the market. The difficulty in treating tires similarly is the need to ensure that tire labeling is a meaningful indicator of performance. It is unfortunate that the tire industry and EU legislators have thus far failed to create an independent, responsible testing center for the approval of all tires, including imported tires.

The use of EU legislation should perhaps be considered for tires, too, as low rolling resistance products begin to broaden consumer choice and show their service advantages, just as low-wattage light bulbs have done.

 

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