The future of tyres has been hotly talked about in recent weeks with dramatic changes scheduled for Formula 1 as it heads into a new season. The motorsport, which will be switching to Pirelli’s new specification as of the 2014 season, will begin testing tyres in late December with Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Toro Rosso all taking part.
But whilst the new take on the tyre has sparked controversy on the circuit, on the road it appears the tyre has an exciting future.
Attempting to solve the problems of punctures, flats and tread wear, the likes of Michelin and Bridgestone are coming up with modern ways to make tyres, virtually indestructible.
Every year millions of motorists have to pull onto the hard shoulder with a punctured tyre, and a survey taken by Kwik Fit states that over half of UK motorists would be stranded if they got a flat tyre. And whilst it isn’t the end of the world, after all it’s easy to pick up cheap tyres online from clickontyres.co.uk, manufacturers are making huge advances to eliminate the problem.
Japanese company, Bridgestone have this month released their AirFree prototype that could effectively reinvent the wheel. Rather than air, this premium tyre uses a fretwork of recyclable thermoplastic spokes to support the weight of the car, whilst it’s wrapped in rubber commonly used with every day tyres.
However, having only reached a top speed of 37mph in testing, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing the concept in the near future.
And it isn’t just Bridgestone that have suffered this problem. Michelin’s ‘Tweel’ suffered speed issues when they revealed their concept in 2005. Again with a thin sheer band and tread, the wheel relies on polyurethane flexible spokes to take the weight of the vehicle, and has still yet to take off.
But whilst major companies are trying to revolutionise the wheel, they are also trying to re-evaluate the regular models. In 2011 the first signs of a shortage in oil doubled prices, and companies are having to find an alternative to butadiene, the main ingredient in synthetic rubber. Michelin, who are undergoing extensive research into resources such as sugar beet, straw and wood have budgeted €52 million over the next eight years into a project named Bio Butterfly.
Prices have dropped back over the past few years with cheap tyres once again available, but with a shortage of butadiene expected to hit by 2020, there could once again by a sharp rise unless projects like Bio Butterfly works.
The thought behind the project is that the organic waste matter will be fermented and turned into a form of bio-butadiene, which will affectively then allow manufacturers to continue making a similar product to what are currently on our roads.
Although, perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of motoring for the consumers is re-inflating a flat tyre. According to the American Automobile Association, around 80% of cars on the road are driving with one or more tyres underinflated.
Last year Goodyear debuted its self-inflating technology in a bid to ensure vehicles are safe on the roads. The Air Maintenance Technology system automatically keeps tyres inflated to the optimum pressure. Voted one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2012, the tyre could well be rolling down our roads in the next year.
But that still doesn’t solve the issue of tread. Most drivers are unaware of the laws regarding tread and fail to check their tyres on regular occasions. A low tread depth can seriously affect the way your car grips to the road, particularly in wintery conditions.
Already in use on large articulated trucks, the Michelin XDA5 gives truck tyres a 30% longer lifespan through a regenerative tread technology. As the tyre wears down, it reveals new grooves and tread blocks that will keep the trucks running longer on the same tyre.
The future for cars however, looks slightly more science-fiction. Earlier this year Pirelli announced that due to European Union regulations, tyres will be forced to find new methods in which to achieve the best ratings. Expected to be much thinner and taller, the tyres will not only have to improve on their wet breaking performance and rolling resistance factor from 2016, but it is also likely they will have to grow in diameter from 16 inches to 21 by 2020.
This will radically change the look of road cars in the not-so-distant future, and could ultimately signal the end for cars that like to grip in corners such as the Audi R8 and the beginning of the likes of the German manufacturers Urban Sportback concept.