The evolution of tires
It is really hard to imagine life without tires. For over a hundred years, manufacturers have been making great changes in tire technology, seeking to perfect their performance. I have always thought of tires as the weak link in an automobile. Today’s young people want to get from place to place with vehicles that have maximum control of their operation and performance with as little effort as possible in the maintenance of their components, including tires.
The automobile and tires would not be what they are today if it were not for the constant insistence of small inventions that have improved them over time, many of them homemade. Youtubers Scott Mansell and Callum McIntyre, hosts of the Driven media channel, wanted to experiment with some tubeless tires they created themselves. They created a tire that is composed of 15 identical pieces of plastic tubing mounted on 14-inch sheet metal rims from an old Ford Mondeo (NYSE: F).
These tubes achieved greater solidity, having as complements smaller tubes, more than 300 bolts and nuts. When testing these new rims on a light Caterham 270, they realized that the noise and vibration of these rims is much higher than the air tires when increasing speed and going over bumps. Incidentally, the tubes installed were becoming detached from the rim as speed increased. What did surprise me is that their invention with these airless tires is insensitive to punctures, so at least they found this to be a very positive aspect despite the noise and the tubes coming out of the tubes.
Despite what it might seem with these attempts to design airless tires, the concept of having tubeless, airless tires have had several prototypes and not just homemade ones. In fact, brands such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (NASDAQ: GT) and Michelin SA (BATS EU: ML) have been working on it for years, although their developments have not yet been mass-marketed.
Now, this situation seems to be about to change as airless tires are being put to the test by the manufacturer Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co (NASDAQ: GT). On a test track in Luxembourg, a Tesla, owned by Tesla Inc, used tires made from a special plastic, which supports a thin band of reinforced rubber. The tire flexes and contorts as the car moves forward. According to experts, at first, this type of tire may produce some noise and vibration, which could affect young drivers who prefer to listen to loud music on their car rides. Goodyear wants the tires to be low-maintenance, puncture-proof, recyclable, noise-free and have sensors that map road conditions.
On the other hand, Goodyear’s rival Michelin SA (BATS EU: ML) has been working with General Motors on airless tires since 2019. It is planned that a new electric car from General Motor’s Chevrolet (NYSE: GM) could come out by 2024. These tires will have high-strength resin embedded with fibreglass and rubber compound for which Michelin has filed 50 patents. These tires could be manufactured with a 3D printer and with materials that can be melted and reused.
As far as we can see, air, the tire’s great companion, is beginning to be replaced. The tires of the future will have to adapt to the demands of a society that is increasingly adapted to new technologies and more environmentally conscious.
The new generations will require automated processes that avoid having to fix tires on the road, which can map the route with cars without the presence of the driver. Consumption should be much lower, and tires should be quieter with better safety conditions and no impact on the environment.
We are on the eve of a transcendental change in the conception and operation of tires. Tire repair on the road will be a thing of the past.