The transition to battery powered electric vehicles changes cars and trucks in more ways than what’s powering the wheels. The tires have to change significantly, too, according to French tire manufacturer Michelin.
“We believe in the environment today, we have a lot of opportunities because the market is shifting rapidly to electric and hybrid vehicles,” said Alexis Garcin, chairman and president of Michelin North America.
According to analysts at LMC Automotive, the number of electric vehicles available in the U.S. market will roughly quadruple to 81 by 2022, vs. 20 in 2020. LMC Automotive expects 131 EVs on sale in the United States in 2025. That’s purely battery-powered EVs like Teslas or the Nissan Leaf, not including gasoline-electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
Because of the batteries, “these new vehicles will weigh more,” than comparable cars with internal-combustion engines, Garcin said in a follow-up phone interview following a series of presentations parent company Michelin hosted online for investors, analysts and the press on April 8.
In the presentations, Michelin spelled out a long-range list of what it called People, Planet and Profit ambitions for 2030, including carbon-neutrality for its own operations, and a goal that its tires would be manufactured with at least 40% “sustainable” materials by then.
Michelin also set out shorter-term goals for 2023, which the company expects to be the first, full post-pandemic year. Those 2023 targets included sales of 24.5 billion Euros (about $29.1 billion at the present rate), vs. a COVID-impacted 20.5 billion Euros in 2020. Sales in 2019 were 24.1 billion Euros, the company said.
Michelin North America, based in Greenville, S.C., has 49 facilities, including 23 manufacturing plants, in the United States and Canada. It has $8.1 billion in sales in North America in 2020, including the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Garcin said Michelin North America is an important part of the global company’s transition to components and systems for electric vehicles.
In addition to more weight from the battery, electric motors generate more torque than an internal-combustion engine, he said. Torque is the twisting power that launches a car from a standing start. Subway cars have electric motors, for instance, so they can get a massive amount of weight up to speed quickly, in the short distances between stops.
In an automobile, “The combination of higher weight and higher torque puts more pressure on the tires,” and that would wear out conventional tires much more quickly, Garcin said.
Conventional tires on an electric vehicle would probably wear out 20% faster, said Scott Clark, Michelin executive vice president, automotive, motorsport experiences and Americas Regions, during the online presentations.
To address the different requirements for EVs and hybrids, Michelin and other tire manufacturers developed and continue to refine so-called “low-rolling-resistance” tires. Their structure and chemical makeup reduce the amount of energy that’s lost, when starting a cold tire from a standing start, while maintaining other characteristics like wet and dry grip, Garcin said.
In practical terms, Garcin said, “20% to 30% of the fuel consumption of the car is directly impacted by the tire.” He said as a fuel-conserving measure, Michelin first started developing “green” tires back in the 1990s.
Low-rolling resistance tires mean greater battery range for a hybrid or electric vehicle, Clark said in the online presentation: “Electrification has the biggest impact on tires.”