For fleet managers, there’s already well-established ways to control tire costs, including implementing maintenance and DVIR checklists, ensuring tires are properly inflated, and following a tire maintenance schedule. But as important as your tire tracking program is now, it’s set to become even more so in the near future.
As consumers and regulators fuel the drive for sustainability across fleet-heavy industries, new types of tires, especially those featuring innovations in materials and design, could introduce uncertainty in terms of performance and durability. Fleet managers will need to track tires even more closely to ensure they get the best possible return on investment.
The future of tires is bright, with new materials and designs promising a smaller environmental footprint at every stage of the life cycle, from collecting feedstock to recycling old scrap tires. But new technology inevitably involves unknown outcomes. For fleet managers, now is the best time to start or ramp up tire tracking, so you can control costs today and make data-backed decisions in the future.
Before looking at the solutions, it’s worth reviewing some of the current challenges with tires. The best way to understand why so many changes are coming to the tire industry is to look at the problems these new products are set to solve.
The current challenges with tires
They’re circular, so it would be great if their average life cycle were, too. Unfortunately, tires tend to move in a straight line, from resource-intensive feedstocks to tires to landfills. At every step, they can cause issues.
The average tire is made from a combination of natural and synthetic rubbers, and both sources can be less than ideal. The high demand for natural rubber for use in the automotive industry means, according to some estimates, that for every two people on the planet, there is one rubber tree under commercial cultivation. Because the plants need a lot of room to grow, rubber plantations can cause deforestation.
Synthetic versions, including butadiene, styrene butadiene, and halobutyl rubber, come with their own drawbacks. The production processes, for example, are fossil-fuel-intensive and can involve the release of toxins.
Traditionally, there’s been a struggle to find uses for old tires. Unlike some types of glass that can be recycled and used as a new glass product, tires are hard to break back down into their basic materials. Even though they can be 40% natural rubber, once the rubber is vulcanized, it’s difficult to go back.
There has been progress in reducing the number of tires that end up in landfills. According to the US Tire Manufacturing Association, there were almost 1 billion scrap tires in stockpiles in 1990. Today, that number is down to just roughly 56 million. But the markets for recycled tire scraps are becoming saturated.
The race for sustainable tires begins
Throughout its history, the tire industry has been looking for ways to make products with less environmental impact. And recent changes on the part of automakers are adding fuel to the drive for sustainability. Car manufacturers are responding to the public’s desire for more environmentally friendly options, according to a recent report. As part of this process, they ask tire companies to deliver more sustainable tires.
And the response has been exciting.
Back in March of 2021, Michelin announced its goal of producing all its tires from combinations of renewable, recycled, or bio-sourced materials as early as 2050. They claim solid progress: Already 28% of the components in its current tires are now from natural or otherwise sustainable materials.
Over at Goodyear, the company says it can a tire from 100% sustainable sources by 2030. They’ve also made impressive strides: By 2022, the company had already developed a prototype with 70% sustainable materials. In 2023, they hit 90%.
“We want to be able to help our customers meet their sustainability targets, whether it’s [original equipment manufacturers] or fleets, or even the end consumer,” explains Erin Spring, senior director of global materials science at Goodyear.
Tire manufacturers are looking for more sustainable alternatives for many of the more common elements that go into tires.
For example, butadiene is a critical precursor to the manufacture of synthetic rubber. Currently, at the industrial level, you need fossil fuels to produce it. However, Michelin is working on a process that relies on ethanol from biomass to produce the gas. According to their internal calculations, “Ultimately, 4.2 million tonnes of wood chips could be integrated into Michelin tires each year.”
The company is also investing in new ways to regenerate styrene from waste polystyrene, commonly used in food containers and plastic packaging. Styrene is another important element in synthetic rubber. The company claims, “With this technology, the equivalent of 80,000 tons* of polystyrene waste could be recycled into Michelin tires each year.”
On top of finding more sustainable ways to use and reuse elements already in tires, companies are looking for new ones they can add.
- Soybean oil for better pliability at different temperatures
- Silica from rice husks to improve grip and cut fuel consumption
- Polyester from recycled bottles for use in tire chords
- Pine tree resins to enhance tire traction
Because many of these are renewable resources, and some are even waste products from existing manufacturing processes, there is a much smaller environmental footprint.
So, people want more environmentally friendly options, and car manufacturers are responding by asking tire companies to make sustainable tires. But that’s only a part of it. Carmakers are also trying to meet the demand for green products by expanding their lineups of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids.
There’s a lot to be said about the environmental benefits of EVs for private and commercial use. But even though these vehicles can be easier on the environment, they’re often harder on their tires. Compared to the average internal combustion engine (ICE), an EV is significantly heavier.
Large batteries add a lot of weight. Until recently, carmakers focused on designing lighter cars for better fuel efficiency. But EVs changed everything, and now the goal is finding ways to accommodate the added weight without increasing the tire’s size.
Tire companies have responded by introducing high-load capacity tires (HLC), designed to carry more weight at smaller sizes.
Why fleet managers need tire tracking
The tire industry is responding to new trends by developing more sustainable tires that can hold more weight at smaller sizes. The developments are exciting and include advances in everything from basic chemistry to product modeling.
But for all the excitement, fleet managers need to remain vigilant. With every new technology and every new product, there are unknowns. How will these tires perform? Will a tire designed to be recycled more easily last as long? Are there unexpected costs associated with switching from tried-and-true technologies to cutting-edge solutions?
Good data answers hard questions.
Fleet managers now more than ever need reliable data so they can make informed decisions about which of the new tires works best for their fleets.
Changes in the tire industry mean tire tracking will be even more important for fleet managers. Although there’s already a well-established list of ways to get the most from your tires, including implementing maintenance checklists and ensuring tire pressure, introducing new materials and designs means fleet managers will need to track tires more closely to ensure they are investing in the right brands and models.
Tire companies are developing new tires that incorporate more recycled as well as more sustainable materials — for example, using rice husks and soybean oil. They are also designing tires that can carry heavier loads at smaller sizes to better accommodate heavier EVs.
As these new tires come on the market, fleet managers will need to track them carefully to find the ones that work best for their vehicles. Tire tracking, already an important part of controlling costs, is set to become even more critical to overall fleet success.