As the auto industry has become ever more competitive in recent years, manufacturers of every conceivable component are constantly striving for greater efficiencies, safety and performance.
Few parts of a vehicle are more crucial to its integrity and overall performance than the tyres. Indeed, the sense of balance between the motor, the chassis and the electronics – what gives a car its “character” – is in large part determined by the only part that is in constant contact with the road.
The world’s tyre manufacturers are driven by such a responsibility, and Pirelli is on the first line.
Under the company’s “green performance objectives”, a significant investment in research into new tyre structures, compounds and treads has led to advances in braking performance while at the same time enhancing environmental performance in these key areas:
* Decreased rolling resistance – creating lower CO2 emissions
* Less noise – reducing noise pollution
* Increased mileage – lengthening tyre life and reducing use of resources
* Reduced weight – requiring less use of raw materials.
Energy efficiency and EU regulations
A key indicator of tyre performance is rolling resistance – a measure of a tyre’s energy efficiency. And it has become easier to judge the success of tyre companies’ research programmes in this area thanks to progressively more sophisticated means of testing and recent EU regulations insisting on greater transparency that make it easier for consumers to compare products.
A trend that is “good for the driver and good for the environment.”
Dr Alessandro Ascanelli, Pirelli’s Head of R&D for Car Products, is proud that work by the Italian company’s scientists has led to an improvement of some 50 per cent in rolling resistance efficiency over the past six years. Such a trend, he says, is “good for the driver and good for the environment.”
As much as 20 per cent of a car’s total fuel consumption can be directly attributable to its tyres, and fuel consumption for a vehicle equipped with the latest energy-efficient tyres could see a drop of as much as 8 to 10 per cent compared with an older generation of tyre. And consuming less fuel obviously means advantages both for the driver and for the environment, with fewer pollutants being emitted.
Pirelli puts major research into considering different terrains and driving conditions in different countries
Cinturato tops the poll
When the EU’s classification system was launched in 2012, Pirelli’s Cinturato P7 Blue tyres, for example (the name reflecting their Formula 1 heritage), received the top classification of “AA” – excellent – under the new labeling rules. The tyres have been designed specifically to offer greater mileage, lower rolling resistance and reduced wet braking distances.
Pirelli puts major research into considering different terrains and driving conditions in different countries, as well as the uncontrollable factors for any driver – traction and performance in wet or dry conditions.
Last year, Cinturato P7 Blue tyres were the top-rated all-season tyres by German magazine Auto Bild, with the following positives highlighted: “...stable cornering and superb handling on wet roads. Good safety margins when aquaplaning and precise steering response with good feedback on wet and dry roads.”
Another consideration for drivers is the amount of noise generated as a tyre rolls, part of the overall environmental footprint of the product. Obviously, performance will vary depending on “non-tyre” factors such as the age and weight of the vehicle, the type of road, even the driver’s driving style, while something as simple as over- or under-inflating a tyre can also have an effect on both rolling resistance and safe braking distance.
Three years are needed to develop an approved tyre from scratch to final production.
Testing, testing and more testing
For Pirelli, process is everything. And rigour is the keyword. According to a recent presentation by Norbert Allgäuer-Wiederhold, manager of Pirelli’s Tyre Campus in Germany, three years are needed to develop an approved tyre from scratch to final production, with an average of 200 tests outdoors and 400 in the laboratory, accounting for some three million kilometres or more of testing across all kind of terrain and conditions.
Alongside the impetus of the EU rankings, Pirelli’s R&D department has set its own high standards in targets to improve the environmental performance of its own products. By 2020, the company has committed to reduce – compared with the corresponding averages in 2007 – the weighted average rolling resistance of its products by 40 per cent in car products, by 20 per cent in truck products and by 10 per cent in motorcycle products.
Pirelli is also looking at how much energy is required in order to make their tyres, as well as the extent to which recycled materials can be incorporated into the production process.
Both those considerations will contribute to overall environmental impact, but when it comes to the tyres themselves and how they do their primary job of moving a vehicle, Ascanelli is confident the work his team is doing will continue to produce positive results both for drivers and the environment.
“Everybody wins – the driver wins, they pay good money for good quality, high performance tyres, but at the same time, the environment wins. And that’s a victory that we’re constantly attempting to repeat.”