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Hybrid crossovers present a challenge to tyre suppliers

With increased weight and requirements for range optimisation, tyre suppliers are developing new technologies for crossover vehicles

Tyre suppliers are seeing new opportunities for growth within the supply chain for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Vehicles with a partially electric powertrain face the challenge of operating within lower ranges compared to conventionally propelled cars with gasoline and diesel internal combustion engines (ICEs) that can easily travel long distances.

These challenges are exacerbated in crossovers and SUVs where notably higher weight increases over a sedan or hatchback HEV puts a greater strain on the battery charge.

Chasing fuel efficiency

Falken’s concept tyre will feature on Mitsubishi’s XR-PHEV II crossover concept

Tyre suppliers are looking to change this, however. Yokohama’s Vice President of Sales, Rick Phillips, recently commented that the biggest change in the tyre market over the last five years has been “the continued chase of more fuel-efficient products and trying to reduce greenhouse gases.” The challenge tyre suppliers see “is in trying to achieve a lower rolling resistance without sacrificing tyre life,” he said. “It’s tough because if you make the tread shallower it is more fuel efficient, but the tyre also wears out quicker,” he added.

Numerous tyre suppliers are reporting a rise in demand for tyres designed to benefit HEVs and now crossovers. Falken, the European affiliate of Japanese tyre manufacturer Sumitomo Rubber, has developed a tyre concept that uses motorcycle tyre technology to address how future tyres can meet hybrid crossovers’ challenging demands for both extended range and improved handling performance.

Motorcycle technology on a hybrid crossover vehicle is one of the less conventional pairings, but Falken’s concept tyre will feature on Mitsubishi’s XR-PHEV II crossover concept in March 2015.

The outer third of the tyre consists of a low rolling resistance surface with water dispersion grooves. These grooves are designed to simultaneously prevent hydroplaning and enhance grip in wet conditions. To increase grip under hard cornering, the inner third of the tyre features a curved surface – a feature commonly found on motorcycle tyres – allowing for greater contact with the road.

Making the crossover to efficiency

Crossovers suffer lower fuel economy figures compared to smaller cars, and Falken is trying to reduce this effect without hindering the driving performance. Matt Smith, Falken’s UK Director, commented: “Consumers want to have the best range with a hybrid but aren’t prepared to sacrifice an ‘involving’ driving experience.” He believes that a new type of tyre is required, and explains that this concept highlights how drivers of crossover vehicles can achieve efficiency “without sacrificing driving experience.”

A production date for the tyre is yet to be set, but Falken believes that ‘bespoke’ tyre technologies such as this will be the way tyre suppliers continue to develop new products in future.

Where next for the light-duty tyre market?  

MITSUBISHI Concept XR-PHEV - Falken concept SUV tyre
Falken is aiming to increase the efficiency of hybrid crossovers and SUVs with its concept tyre

Speaking to Automotive World, Falken’s Manager of Product Planning, Andreas Giese, observed that new tyre technologies are being driven by the rise of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and a continued push for tyres to contribute to efficiency standards.

“These vehicles require tyres with optimised rolling resistance whilst still retaining wet weather grip and durability. Delivering these attributes will be a challenge and requires us to look at new development processes and materials,” he said.

Giese anticipates that software and super computers will play greater roles in the development of new tyre technologies: “Our engineers in Japan have for the first time employed a super computer normally used for climate simulation. We identified how and where heat would be generated and how to minimise it. This is crucial as a temperature build-up results in higher rolling resistance, and ultimately reduces fuel economy.”

Highlighted by its latest concept tyre for Mitsubishi, the growth in crossovers and HEVs puts Falken in a favourable position within the market. As this segment grows, tyre suppliers will look to continue their R&D efforts to develop new technologies that assist OEMs in meeting future efficiency and economy regulations.

Freddie Holmes

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