Tread Trends: GM Switches to Artisan Tires Using Sustainable 'Green Rubber'

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
tread trends gm switches to artisan tires using sustainable 8216 green rubber

General Motors has announced it will choose “sustainable natural rubber” for the 49 million tires it buys each year. The automaker claims it is establishing a set of buying principals to ensure sustainably harvested materials and is encouraging other automakers to follow suit in a bid to reduce deforestation.

It won’t suddenly make driving your Chevrolet good for the environment, but it should give drivers bragging rights — allowing them to claim their tires killed fewer critters before even getting the opportunity to run any over.

However, environmental smugness is occasionally warranted. With tire manufactures representing 75 percent of the natural rubber market (according to the World Wildlife Fund), an overall shift toward sustainability would provide a measurable impact on deforestation. But what is General Motors getting out of this move and what will the price of environmental awareness be?

GM says it doesn’t know the cost of adopting more sustainable farming practices, though it hopes it will be more-or-less equal in the short term (with opportunities to save some dough in the future). Since rubber trees need a particular climate in which to grow, GM hopes it can reduce future costs by ensuring crop yields on a longer timeline. Even if it doesn’t, this still gives the automaker an opportunity to promote itself as environmentally responsible. This carries its own benefits.

The majority of materials used in modern tires are synthetic, but most contain some amount of natural rubber — with performance tires using more. While going overboard with natural rubber would be detrimental to the longevity of any tire, the market share of synthetic rubber has declined rather dramatically over the last two decades. Your wheels are likely to be wrapped in something more organic today than they were in 2001. As a result, Bridgestone has begun looking toward American-sourced natural alternatives — like the shrub guayule — over man-made and natural rubber.

In the interim, automakers and suppliers are trying to find a way to ensure Southeast Asia’s military coups and deforestation doesn’t obliterate the rubber tree crop. Helping small businesses, farmers, and the environment is just a happy coincidence.

“Our supplier partners are an extension of our company,” said Steve Kiefer, GM’s senior vice president of global purchasing and supply. “We want to encourage affordable, safer and cleaner options for our customers that drive value to both our organization and the communities in which we work.”

Of GM’s suppliers, Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, and Michelin have all expressed a desire to improve the transparency of their rubber supply chain. GM plans to meet with stakeholders in June to set the official criteria for rubber purchasing and develop an industry initiative for automakers before 2018.

[Image: General Motors]

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  • YellowDuck Thank goodness neither one had their feet up on the dash....
  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
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