Everyone Is Working on Non-pneumatic Rubber for Your Future Car
Airless tires are one of those things that crop up every few years, but they never seem to stick around long enough to become commonplace. Already, certain construction vehicles use flat-proof rubber, and tire manufacturers have been playing with airless systems for some time. For example, Hankook has the iFlex, its fifth attempt at non-pneumatic tires, and Goodyear has actually begun selling airless donuts on commercial lawnmowers. Michelin even has a 3D-printed round that it claims will last the lifetime of a vehicle.
Unfortunately, nobody seems able to come up with a solution that works at higher speeds. While they’re great at taking impacts, the existing designs aren’t so good at coping with high levels of heat. But it’s not for a lack of trying — there may even be a breakthrough just around the bend, especially since everyone seems so interested. Rolling resistance and weight are two of the electric car’s worst enemies. If an automaker could mitigate those issues effectively, that would be another leg up on the competition.
It’s an issue weighing heavy on the top minds at Toyota at the moment. The company’s recent concept EV, the Fine-Comfort Ride, came equipped with a set of experimental airless tires from Sumitomo Rubber Industries, boringly named the Smart Tyre Concept-A. Toyota’s theory is that non-pneumatic tires, consisting of a solid band of rubber encircling lightweight alloys, could eventually compensate for the weight of wheel-mounted electric motors.
QOTD: Do You Skimp on Tires? Do You Care If the OEM Does?
Want a definition of irony that has nothing to do with rain on your wedding day? Well, here you go: The spectacular abilities of the modern performance automobile are about half due to electronic engine control and about half due to modern tire technology. That’s an estimate, of course, and one that might not be all that fair to the tires. Every time you hear some stupidity about how ECONOCAR XXX is three seconds faster around a reference course than SUPERCAR YYY, you can be reasonably sure that the times for the old car were set on “ultra high performance” tires that wouldn’t make the cut nowadays on a half-ton pickup.
Many of the ERMAGHERD lap-time specials out there are largely or entirely dependent on boutique tires for their performance. This is particularly true for the current crop of domestic rockets which often have a vehicle-specific fitment that shares little to nothing with other sizes of that particular sidewall labeling. (Your Honor, Exhibit A: The Kumhos on the Viper ACR.)
You would think that the buyers of those cars would understand just how critical it is to obtain fresh date codes of the original super-rubber every time they replace their tires. Nah.