Leama Specialist Cars

Incredible tyre innovations shaped by electric cars
09 August 2019

Car tyres haven’t traditionally been a particularly exciting facet of the automotive world but they most certainly are now. Influenced by the unstoppable popularity of crossover SUVs, the gradual adoption of electric cars and the future arrival of autonomous or ‘driverless’ vehicles, major tyre brands regularly announce incredible technologies and concepts that will eventually change the face of the humble tyre and could quietly prove instrumental for EV drivers, fleet managers, car-sharing and AV operators.

Airless tyres from Michelin

Michelin, one of the world’s leading manufacturers, recently unveiled a tyre called Uptis, which stands for ‘Unique Puncture-proof Tyre System’ and does away with something that has long been intrinsic to how the black rubber circles work – air.

Michelin’s airless Uptis tyre is being developed and tested alongside General Motors, starting with the Chevrolet Bolt EV, a fleet of which will be tested in the wild shod with these ground-breaking tyres later this year. Punctures, blow-outs and sidewall damage cause untold misery to today’s private motorists, company car fleet managers and growing numbers of ride-sharing companies, and Uptis’ puncture-immune construction will prove even more important to tomorrow’s driverless vehicles for safety and logistical reasons.

Uptis is actually based on Michelin’s earlier Tweel concept and because the circumferential tread that will come into contact with the road is separate to the tyre’s inner mesh structure and aluminium hub, wastage and disposals will be minimised, benefitting the environment along with Uptis’ reduced use of raw materials. Michelin’s claim that the tread will last up to three times longer than a conventional tyre will appeal to all types of drivers and vehicle operators, and the need to think about air pressure will be a distant memory.

Electric cars are a significant influence behind Uptis’ development, as the tyre’s weight-saving properties will enable EVs to eke out longer battery ranges and improve their aerodynamic efficiency. Impressively, Michelin says that it can customise the tyre’s structure to suit different car manufacturers and their specific models, such as making the tyre stiffer for sports cars or more comfortable with a lower rolling resistance for EVs with a long-range focus. Tyres may soon never look the same, as far as Michelin is concerned, anyway.

Spherical tyres from Goodyear

Goodyear has shown bold vision over the years, unveiling its Eagle 360 concept at the Geneva Motor Show in 2017, which was not only 3D-printed and spherical but also ‘smart’, ‘connected’ and with integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors enabling it to sense, decide, transform and interact based on road, weather and other conditions.

Vehicles riding on spheres instead of tyres will be much more manoeuvrable, safe and comfortable, Goodyear having developed the Eagle 360 with autonomous cars very much in mind. The more recent Urban version’s ‘brain’, super-elastic polymer bionic skin and tread pattern that morphs to suit varying surfaces will form part of a vehicle’s ‘nervous system’, all connected by the Internet of Things (IoT) and able to communicate with other road users, infrastructure such as traffic lights and even with buildings.

The Eagle 360 Urban’s tread will automatically change and add ‘dimples’ to enhance grip in wet weather conditions, smooth itself over for dry roads and sporty driving, and even rotate and ‘self-heal’ in the case of punctures or other damage.

Tyres that double as propellers

As if that wasn’t forward-thinking enough, Goodyear has recently revealed a tyre concept called AERO, a two-in-one airless tyre for autonomous flying cars, which doubles as a propeller when the vehicles are airborne, using magnetic propulsion to lift them off the ground.

Back in the here and now, though, and Goodyear EfficientGrip is a tyre brand many of Leama’s prestige car sales and leasing customers will be familiar with, and Electric Drive Technology has now been added to combat the way in which electric cars can wear their tyres out up to 30% more quickly because of the weight of their batteries and the instant acceleration and torque available.

Goodyear’s EfficientGrip Performance tyre with Electric Drive Technology will provide more rubber surface contact with the road, while the design of the tread pattern will reduce tyre and road noise further, which is important in EV development. Additionally, the tyre has been optimised with a high-load-carrying construction to support electric cars’ battery weight, while the smooth sidewall with narrow slits instead of traditional spokes reduces rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag.

Falken’s tyre concept that generates electricity

Falken has invented something called the Energy Harvester, which produces electrical power by utilising static electricity that builds up as a car tyre rotates. The process is called frictional charging and Falken’s Energy Harvester design comprises two layers of rubber, each of which is covered with an electrode and also a negatively-charged film that interacts with a positively-charged film, generating electricity from inside the tyre’s carcass as the vehicle’s wheels turn.

The technology has received support from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, but we’re not expecting it to appear on production cars in Europe and the UK any time soon. Although perpetual motion vehicles aren’t likely to happen despite innovators’ best efforts, what immediately sprang to mind when we learned of this development was that electric cars may in the future be able to partially power themselves from the movement of their wheels, in a similar way to regenerative braking. For now, though, Falken points to Energy Harvester providing modest amounts of secondary power for the likes of tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) – but at least it’s a positive stride.

Two other tyres designed for electric cars

The Kinergy AS EV from Hankook looks much more like a conventional tyre but has been engineered with EVs’ specific requirements in mind, its hyper-low noise characteristics aimed at enhancing such cars’ tranquil ride, while its reinforced belt increases the tyre’s extra-load (XL) properties, and the Aqua Pine compound used in its construction fits in with electric vehicles’ environmental ethos while maximising grip.

We finish our look at tyre innovation with a pair from Continental. ContiSense, first of all, incorporates sensors embedded in the rubber that send signals to not just the car but also to remote computer systems such as those used by fleet managers or breakdown providers. Significant pressure and temperature changes along with punctures, blow-outs and sidewall damage are all instantly communicated, ultimately helping cars to get back on the road as quickly as possible, and aiding predictive maintenance and servicing.

ContiAdapt is perhaps even more remarkable, though, with integral microprocessors that advise on not just tyre pressure adjustments but also changes to the alloy wheel rim itself, essentially meaning that within the confines of the vehicle’s wheel arches, its tyres and wheels can morph to suit varying conditions. Off-road driving, detected using the sat nav and other data, would result in the wheels widening and their tread pattern grips becoming more pronounced, and urban routes in dry weather would result in tall, skinny wheels and tyres that help electric cars eke out more mileage and provide a quieter and more comfortable driving experience.

Leama Specialist Cars of Knutsford, Cheshire, has built up considerable car industry knowledge with over 75 years’ combined expertise and keeps informed of the latest trends for the benefit of our clients, who are becoming increasingly interested in EVs. We are renowned for selling hand-picked, preowned luxury, sports and prestige vehicles, but we also incorporate a car leasing brokerage, arranging the best deals and offers across all makes and models.

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