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Intelligent Tires

Tires are expected to play an even more integrated role in a connected mobility future. Photo: Volvo

It’s not just vehicles that will be connected in the future.

From September 8-18, the International Tire and Exhibition Conference (ITEC), hosted its annual expo, though due to the spread of COVID-19, this time out it was an all-virtual event.

Packed full with content relating to tire R&D and manufacturing, tire testing and performance, as well as the role tires and tire technology play in the continually evolving transportation sector, the event kicked off with a keynote address from Brian Goldstine, President of Mobility Solutions, Fleet Management, Bridgestone Americas.

Under the heading of The Global Revolution in Mobility, Goldstine focused on how the transportation ecosystem is changing and the role that tires will play within it.

“We are at the intersection of multiple macro-level changes which are occurring and happening concurrently,” said Goldstine. “These include changes in automotive technology, regulations and society as well as most recently, the impacts and changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Consumer behaviour shifting

Goldstine noted that along with these changes, consumer behaviour is also changing, along with the vehicles and the industries the tire sector serves.

“The amount of change we’re seeing, particularly this year, can feel fairly overwhelming at times,” said Goldstine, “but those feelings of being overwhelmed, along with uncertainty and change really come with the opportunity to innovate, evolve and build a more sustainable future for all.”

Brian Goldstine, President of Mobility Solutions, Fleet Management, Bridgestone Americas. Photo: ITEC

Goldstine said that Bridgestone, being open to new ideas is a critical strategy for the company, built around four key pillars:

  • Connected
  • Autonomous
  • Shared
  • Electrification

“Commonly discussed, these four macro trends (CASE for short) are happening in our industry at the same time,” said Goldstine. He also referred to the huge digital transformation happening around us where the physical and virtual worlds are converging and by doing so, speeding up the pace of change in a manner we’ve never really seen before.

Peaking ICE sales

Breaking down some key aspects of CASE, Goldstine noted that current analysis points to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle sales peaking in 2021, while electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to be more economical than ICEs in some regions by 2025. Additionally, Goldstine said on-demand services are expected to drive $800 billion U.S. in revenue by 2035 by which juncture, 24 percent of all vehicles sold are expected to be autonomous in one form or another.

“By 2040 it is expected a large portion of vehicles will be shared and autonomous and will account for 80 percent of miles driven,” he said.

So, what does this all mean for the tire industry? Essentially that if all these predictions do come true, the cost per mile will significantly change, meaning that vehicle maintenance (including tire inspection and replacement) will become even more important than it is today.

Additionally, because drivers are expected to be logging fewer miles themselves and autonomous vehicles are likely to be logging far more with the majority being operated by fleets, minimizing downtime and reducing cost of ownership is going to be extremely important, meaning the tire industry will need to work to ensure that servicing appointments and maintenance work is scheduled and performed as efficiently as possible.

Active management

In order to drive efficiencies, penetration of active fleet management is also expected to continually increase. “Today, we see about 40 percent market penetration of these systems,” said Goldstine. “By 2030, we think this will grow to almost two-thirds (62%) of the marketplace and the shift will not only come in large fleets (which are already more highly penetrated) but even faster in small and medium fleets.”

Goldstine said that even with these trends in mind, it’s important to consider that not all fleets are the same.

“There are three key things we look at,” he said, “the size of the fleet, the fleet type and the industry segment.”

Essentially it boils down to whether it’s a small, medium or large fleet in terms of the number of vehicles, as well as the types of vehicles it operates and their servicing requirements, such as passenger cars, light duty trucks and vans, or big, heavy-duty trucks—plus the kind of conditions that fleet operates in.

Personalized solutions

“Just because you have a similar size fleet and a similar size vehicle , does not mean that the overall solutions are going to be the same,” said Goldstine. ”The segment in which each of these fleets operates is going to be very different and that is going to lead to a different operating model.”

For tire manufacturers and service providers, Goldstine said this is something of prime consideration. In terms of the growth in fleet management systems, he said that a key factor is that whether it comes to vehicle maintenance, driver behaviour, regulatory compliance, workforce management or asset tracking, the need to be able to accommodate personalized service and maintenance solutions for different fleets as well as data integration with their management systems will become increasingly important.

Another consideration is the perceived move away for internal combustion engines and toward electric vehicles and ultimately hydrogen fuel cells. Although many agree on this overall macro trend, at the micro level, understanding which types of propulsion technologies fleets will actually adopt and ensuring the tire industry is in a position to successfully support those needs is important.

Smart rubber

Shifting to the tire sector itself, alongside “intelligent” vehicles, Goldstine talked about increasingly intelligent tires.

“Many people think of tires simply as a commoditized component of a vehicle or on a vehicle,” he said, “but the reality is that tires will be at the forefront of enabling an autonomous and connected future.”

Goldstine referred to tires becoming a real-world source of information, providing data on road surfaces, weather conditions and other factors.

“Fleets of the future will need the information their tires provide in order to run a sustainable, efficient and profitable business,” he said.

Goldstine stated that this concept of “intelligent” tires revolves around three key elements—sense, think, and act.

The “sense” aspect relates to the information coming from the vehicle, including sensors within the tire that is related to its use and wear via driver or vehicle behaviour.

The “think” part refers to the advanced analytics that can be applied to monitor tire condition and maintenance/service needs.

Meanwhile, the “act” aspect concerns the ability for tire businesses to provide the right level of service to their fleet or vehicle customers and knowing exactly when to schedule maintenance or repairs, whether routine or emergency.

Instrumental

Goldstine said he believes that when it comes to future mobility, tires will be instrumental in ensuring a smooth, quiet, comfortable ride, much as they do so today.

That said, Goldstine notes that as mobility continues to evolve, so will the tire sector, particularly around the areas of product and service.

When it comes to product evolution, Goldstine notes that at Bridgestone, the need for tire connectivity will become increasingly important to provide assistance for roadside emergency service as well monitoring tire wear to ensure life is maximized.

He also discussed new technologies being developed including air-free commercial truck tires which are planned to debut on larger semi-trailers and are currently in the testing phase.

He noted that should such airless tires find favour with fleets, they are designed to be retreaded, meaning this aspect of the tire industry will become more prominent and help promote long-term sustainability both in terms of reducing the environmental impact of tire waste, but also helping fleets realize greater cost savings while providing additional business opportunities for tire shops.

Leading the way

When it comes to service, Goldstine said that because tires will become more “intelligent,” their data monitoring capability will become an important source of information that’s connected to a broader vehicle ecosystem. He noted that the mining and airline sectors are already leading the way when it comes to advanced tire monitoring and performance in demanding environments.

And with tires becoming a data centre that’s linked to a larger framework built around the vehicle, overall fleet performance can be monitored at the individual vehicle level, meaning that tire service providers are able to gauge the needs of fleet customers at critical stages of operations including:

  • Pre-Trip
  • Route Operations
  • Post-Trip
  • Yard Monitoring

As these solutions develop, the need to ensure they are as integrated as possible will become critical from a service aspect.

“If a fleet doesn’t have a seamless experience, it is going to create tension and friction in the system,” says Goldstine. This not only means that fleets won’t be able to get the level of service they desire from their tire service providers, they also won’t see the value in working with them.

In summing up, Goldstine said that as both macro and micro trends continue to evolve, tire dealers will continue to play a critical role in ensuring that not only their customers get the right product, but also the service solutions that are relevant and effective for them—allowing dealers to create and cement a superior, innovative and seamless experience.

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