Most drivers see tyres as something that needs to be replaced when they wear out.
But ask any enthusiast how he or she feels about tyres and you could spend an entire day discussing this topic.
The bottom line is that tyres are the only thing constantly in contact with the road. Grip, braking, acceleration, handling and ride comfort are all delivered by a car’s tyres. Manufacturing various types of tyres to meet different needs is already a huge challenge for tyre companies.
But tyre brands are facing another, even more complicated challenge as electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) increasingly come to the fore.
Giving us his insights into this and other issues is Agustin Pedroni, Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for Bridgestone China & Asia Pacific.
Agustin discusses what it takes to build tyres for EVs and AVs, talks about sustainability and tells us what he’d like to see more of in cars.
Is it more difficult for tyre companies to make tyres for electric cars than for regular vehicles? Why is this so?
Compared to regular engine-driven vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) use batteries that carry a heavier load and place additional strain on the tyres.
As such, when manufacturing tyres for EVs, it is important to alter the tyre design to optimise load-bearing capacity and ensure that they can handle the nearly-instant torque of electric motors, all while maintaining low rolling resistance to maximize fuel efficiency.
Additionally, EVs produce very little engine noise, so there’s also a greater emphasis on reducing tyre noise as much as possible. There are thus multiple considerations that need to be addressed when building tyres for EVs.
For instance, we have designed custom built tyres under the ECOPIA series for the BMW i3. They have a narrow width to realise low rolling resistance and to reduce aero-dynamic resistance, which are important factors in the improvement of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
With more EVs and autonomous vehicles, will all tyres have to become “connected” via sensors?
The driverless car concept captures the limitless possibilities of human imagination – which the automotive industry is bringing to its consumers. Ultimately, it will come down to the powerful combination of technologies.
These include the use of cameras, sensors and other advanced artificial intelligence technologies that will need to be integrated into the system of an autonomous vehicle for it to inform moment-by-moment decisions, like whether to slow down or accelerate.
As the only part of the car that is in contact with the road, intelligent and “connected” tyres will play a critical role in delivering safe and efficient operation of autonomous vehicles.
Having identified these needs at an early stage, we are building on our leadership in tyre technology, with a keen focus on integrating innovative technologies to meet the needs and expectations of the next-generation of drivers.
Our unique platform of Bridgestone Tyres & Diversified Products as a Solution (Bridgestone T&DPaaS) creates value for our customers by linking our products and services with digital technologies that contribute towards advanced mobility.
For instance, we have developed a new type of tyre sensor, called the Smart Strain Sensor.
A first-of-its-kind, the Smart Strain Sensor technology incorporates Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to help measure the strain that occurs when a tyre makes contact with the road while in motion.
Furthermore, unlike accelerometer sensors, the Smart Strain Sensor can record data even at low speeds, which makes it an important differentiator for autonomous vehicles which are expected to operate at lower speeds for enhanced safety.
Apart from more EVs and autonomous vehicles, what other challenges will the tyre industry face?
This year has seen the rise of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted businesses and economies around the world.
This includes the tyre industry as well, which saw a temporary phased shutdown of its manufacturing facilities across the region. Moving forward, the challenges we foresee involve ensuring the well-being and safety of our employees and the integrity of our operations while mitigating any potential impact to our supply chain.
In light of the pandemic, now more than ever, businesses are also coming under increased scrutiny over how they are contributing to society.
At Bridgestone, we are guided by our mission of “Serving Society with Superior Quality” and will continue to realise and enhance our vision of providing social value and customer value as a sustainable solutions company.
However, to be a global leader with a competitive edge, we need to be able to adapt to an automotive industry which is being transformed by disruptive technologies and changing consumer behaviours.
For example, the increasing demand for improved quality, comfort, and fuel efficiency has led to innovations in the areas of Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric (CASE) vehicles.
The traditional automotive servicing industry has also been disrupted, with modern consumers now looking for quick, cost-effective and convenient ways keep their vehicles running at peak performance.
In keeping with this trend, we recently acquired Lube Mobile in Australia – a fleet of mobile mechanics that deliver high quality vehicle services on the move.
According to the press release, Bridgestone will focus on mobility/transport solutions. Does this mean greater focus on areas such as data and analytics?
Bridgestone already has a strong focus on solutions that leverage data & analytics as well as software for managing autonomous fleets.
Under this category, Bridgestone has in place Webfleet Solutions, which offers data-based solutions that make fleet operations more effective and efficient.
Through this software, Bridgestone gains valuable insights into vehicle and tyre operating conditions from a user base of 860,000 vehicles communicating 200 million data points per day.
On the other hand, Bridgestone’s Toolbox is a digital platform for customers to manage customer information and identify tyre usage conditions.
In the mining sector, we are developing advanced solutions to meet our customer needs and deliver social value. Our revolutionary MasterCore off-the-road (OTR) tyres are engineered for ultra-high durability with performance that can be customised to various mine sites and operations.
We’re leveraging our solutions business to improve resource productivity by combining the real and digital worlds to deliver integrated products, services and servicing networks that utilise tyre and mobility data.
Aligned with our vision to be a sustainable solutions company, we collaborated with our long-term partner Volkswagen to bring ground-breaking lightweight tyre technology to their new all-electric ID.3 vehicle.
The environmentally friendly ENLITEN Technology enables tyres to have a super low rolling resistance to help conserve battery power.
Going forward, Bridgestone will proactively utilise ICT and other cutting-edge technologies to promote innovation through business model development and across the value chain with the goal of ensuring a safe, sustainable and secure motoring society.
Sustainability is a big issue today. How can tyre manufacturing and recycling become more sustainable?
Sustainability is a core element to all aspects of our business, to create both social value and customer value.
In 2017, Bridgestone redefined its global corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitment, “Our Way to Serve” – which pledges to serve society by improving access to smart, safe transportation, building healthy, resilient communities, and minimising its environmental impact.
Building on this, our new global tagline – “Solutions for your journey” – re-affirms our long-term vision to be a sustainable solutions company.
This year, as part of our 2019-2020 Sustainability Report, we also announced Milestone 2030, a new set of mid-term environmental targets to be accomplished by 2030.
These targets are focused on improving the overall efficiency of natural resource utilisation, accelerating circular economy and reducing CO2 emissions.
In the last few years, we have already made significant progress in these areas. For instance, Bridgestone Tyre Manufacturing Thailand (BTMT) studied various technologies and was the first Bridgestone plant to implement the Non-Thermal Plasma System, which lowered odor emissions and reduced waste.
These steps bring us closer towards our mission on enabling an environment-conscious and sustainable society that is pollution-free.
There is also immense opportunity to convert used tyres and provide them with a new lease of life.
For example, last year Bridgestone Indonesia announced a new partnership with Soles4Souls, an NGO that collects new and used shoes and redistributes them through direct donations to people in need.
The partnership looks at creating new shoes out of recycled tyres that are provided by Bridgestone. The goal is to convert 40,000 tyres into ~400,000 pairs of shoes by the end of 2022, diverting these end-of-life tyres from landfills and putting them to good use.
If there was one thing you would like to improve in the automobile, what would it be?
Personally, my hope is for data-driven connectivity between automobiles, auto parts, traffic systems and drivers to be accelerated, to lead to greater improvements in road safety.
We’ve seen across industries how technology and data can improve the safety and security of customers. Take for example, the payments industry where advanced technologies have been used to identify fraud.
In our industry, and as the largest tyre manufacturer in the world, I am excited to see how we can further advance our innovations and utilisation of data to improve road safety.
Using revolutionary technology such as our Smart Strain Sensor presents a huge leap in ensuring driver and vehicle safety – with the ability to detect potential tire-related issues before they even occur.