How is the tyre industry responding to the rising trend of electric vehicles? Highway finds out more in this Q&A with Mr Fabio Marcola Lopes, Managing Director of PIRELLI Asia Pte Ltd.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are rising in popularity. One reason for this is because of EV’s link to sustainability. Can you talk about this link?
The EV trend is accelerating at full speed, especially after the pandemic. Reports show that EVs will account for approximately 20% of new vehicles produced globally by 2030, compared to 5% in 2020. It changes the car parc footprint, which is mainly driven by consumer sentiment towards EVs, tighter regulations towards carbon dioxide emissions, lower battery costs, and reaction of traditional OEMs to new pure EV entrants.
Moreover, EVs are more sustainable than internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles, mainly because they do not produce exhaust gases. In fact, compared to ICE vehicles, EVs produce less carbon dioxide, less particulate matter, less interior noise, and higher efficiency of energy conversion over their life cycle.
As demand for hybrid and electric cars in Southeast Asia continues to grow, to fulfil this accelerating automotive segment, tyre companies are starting to develop tyres that are engineered specifically to satisfy particular needs of EVs.
How can tyres cater to this EV trend?
Tyres have inevitably become more crucial in EVs, given the growing impact on vehicle performance; it’s one of the reasons why high-value, high-quality tyres and proper tyre management are now more important than ever.
R&D collaborations with premium car manufacturers allow for tyres to be engineered specially — with a specific compound, construction and tread-pattern design — for electric and hybrid cars in order to capitalise on the car’s performance.
Some characteristics to consider include:
LOW CONSUMPTION Battery life is optimised, thanks to low rolling resistance.
INSTANT TORQUE Compared to conventional ICE cars, EVs transmit immediate torque to the wheels. To transfer this power onto the tyres without excessive wear, tyres require a specific compound that delivers immediate grip.
WEIGHT The weight of the batteries means that EVs have a unique vertical weight distribution. Tyres should be specially developed to support this weight with an optimal combination of materials, layout, design, and correct deformation of the structure enhancing the control of the performance of the vehicle.
NOISE Tyres require an optimised tread pattern and structure design to minimise noise when driving along, helping electric cars to move silently and enhance driving comfort.
PIRELLI’s engineers work closely with many prestigious car manufacturers, since the homologation process begins at the start of the tyre development stage, which is usually two to three years before the car is officially launched to the markets to stay ahead of trends and latest technology.
How is AI and connectivity affecting the role of the tyre and the tyre industry?
In the context of digital transformation, there is new focus on the development of software and algorithms of machine learning and AI in support of sales and marketing, product development, smart manufacturing and industrial IOT, integrated business planning, and facilitating the development of new products and digital services for the tyre world.
AI and connectivity affect the tyre industry and the tyre itself, and tyres can become the ideal solution to EVs and future mobility. PIRELLI has developed Cyber™ tyres to provide EVs the ‘sense’ of touch, even while the cyber system is the only data connection between car, tyres and ground, feeding the vehicle unique and accurate information enabling tyre and road data use to improve safety and performance.
Are there any new alternative materials to rubber that may be more sustainable for the future?
Research on identifying renewable, recycled and innovative materials that make tyres more environmentally friendly is something the industry is growing more dedicated to. One of the renewable materials is silica, an important component of the tyre compound that is derived from rice husks. Considered a waste product of the food industry, rice husks are a more sustainable alternative to the quartz sand normally used to produce silica.
Another example is lignin, which is present in all plants. It is the second most abundant natural polymer, and can be obtained from woodworking waste during the manufacture of paper, replacing commonly used fossil products.
Is the tyre industry heading towards an outsource/contract manufacturing model; if so where?
Rather than having a particular country in mind, operational excellence along the entire value chain should be key, in order to ensure the highest-quality products are produced. For PIRELLI, we have a total of 18 factories located in 12 countries, and had a production capacity of 73 million car tyres in 2021.
PIRELLI was founded in Milan in 1872, and today stands as a global brand known for its cutting-edge technology, high-end production excellence, and passion for innovation that draws heavily on its Italian roots.
PIRELLI is among the world’s major producers of tyres and associated services; it is the only one focused entirely on the Consumer tyre market, which includes tyres for cars, motorcycles and bicycles.
The PIRELLI name stands for a premium, high-end style with an Italian heritage underlined by its distinctive position as a supplier to luxury car manufacturers.
For more information, visit https://www.pirelli.com/global/en-ww/homepage