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03/04/2020
Tires and hi-tech solutions, how the sector is changing

Partnership

 

That fact that the automotive industry is undergoing huge changes is clear to everyone. Less obvious are the developments affecting all brands in the tire industry

Nicodemo Angì

The war against pollution is increasingly fierce and sees a foolish management of resources opposed to international action that seeks to limit environmental damages even with legislative action.

An example of these measures is the limit on CO2 emissions, which the European Community has lowered to 95 g/km starting this year. A phase-in period will also apply to the target of 95 g/km. In 2020, the emission targets will apply to each manufacturer, a 95% limitation on all new cars. From 2021 onward, the average emissions of all newly registered cars of each manufacturer will have to be below the target. The only car builders that, to date, fall within such limits, according to Jato Dynamics data, are Tesla (obviously) and Smart. As for all other manufacturers the only way to fall within the limits - avoiding heavy fines - is to keep pushing on electrification, with EVs and hybrid Plug-in models. The latter can now rely on batteries able to deliver excellent results and this partially explains all the activities recorded at the beginning of this year.

 

The race towards electrification

Recently a significant number of hybrid vehicles have been presented such as the Mazda 2 hybrid, Fiat 500 and Panda Mild Hybrid, Renault Clio and Captur Plug-in, just to name a few, and soon Jeep (this brand's vehicles produce an average of 142.5 g/km) will introduce its Renegade and Compass Plug-in.

However, this relentless and ethical drive towards electrification has a "side effect": the creation of a grey area filled with players not traditionally associated with the automotive sector.

In its own way, the most resounding example involves Michelin: at the end of 2019, the French manufacture announced an agreement with Faurecia. The components company allied itself with the French brand to reinvent Symbio as an active player in the production of fuel-cell range-extenders. This is the expansion of a company with the same name created in 2010 and dedicated to the production of fuel-cells. In 2011 Symbio designed 300 kW fuel cells for motor racing and following that, in 2013, signed an agreement with Renault to transform the Kangoo range of light commercial vehicles. The following year Michelin became a shareholder and 2016 saw the delivery of the 150th hydrogen-powered Kangoo.

 

 

More mileage thanks to hydrogen

After the agreement Faurecia holds half the capital of Symbio and Michelin the other 50%. Faurecia’s experience in electric powertrains and batteries, a competence particularly appreciated by Michelin’s top management, was the reason behind the joint-venture.

Symbio's goals are rather ambitious: CEO Fabio Ferrari declared that the company wants to become one of the world leaders in the sector, producing 200,000 hydrogen systems by 2030, generating profits for 1.5 billion euro.

Symbio will focus on platforms where fuel cells will be integrated with the power unit of a “conventional” electric car, eliminating the ICE unit in a hybrid combination. This synergy will combine low battery management costs with the flexibility and range offered by fuel cells. The production site, still to be chosen, will build both the units and the machines needed to produce them. This joint venture illustrates the Michelin Group's desire to grow in the hi-tech and special materials sector, in order to make sustainable mobility accessible to as many people as possible.

Faurecia is already allied with CEA, the French Atomic Energy Commission, and Stelia Aerospace Composite, which specializes in high-pressure hydrogen composite tanks.

 

Tires and electronics

The idea is to insert, upstream of the battery, a fuel-cell generator powered by Hydrogen: since the "exhaust gas" of this generator is water vapour, local emissions are zero, yet mileage increases and refuelling is fast.

Another company engaged on the path of hi-tech diversification is Continental. Founded in 1871 as Continental-Caoutchouc- und Gutta-Percha Compagnie, it began to diversify in 1995, forging closer ties with car manufacturers. In 1997 the German company introduced ISAD, a starter-generator flywheel, and the following year was the time to break into the brakes and chassis components sector. 2001 marked Continental’s debut in the IT sector following the acquisition of Temic, reinforced by the acquisition of Siemens VDO and Motorola's automotive business.

This was followed by the production of Li-Ion batteries for vehicles and electric motors and in 2016 a 48-volt mild-hybrid system was presented. Last year Continental started the procedures for a spin-off of Vitesco Technologies, its electric powertrain division, currently used by Peugeot (208) and Opel (Corsa).

The company has recently presented a very special hybrid unit which distributes among 2 electric motors the functions previously entrusted to ICE units. The DHT technology - Dedicated Hybrid Transmission - also makes it possible to use a “simplified” internal combustion engine for an economical hybrid powertrain. The main electric motor makes it possible to start without using fuel while the auxiliary electric unit is used not only as a starter-alternator but also to synchronise gear changes.

You can start in first or second gear without any jolts thanks to the electric motor, hence eliminating the need for a clutch or gear-synchronisers.

 

We manage fleets and help start-ups.

The powertrain can run electrically up to 120 km/h while the internal combustion engine, with a simple injection in the intake duct, reaches up to 160 km/h. The compact size and low cost allows this unit to be used in compact entry level vehicles. The commitment by tire manufacturers towards a new mobility can also translate in new services and software, as seen at the Consumer Electronic Show at the beginning of the year. In Las Vegas, Goodyear presented AndGo, a vehicle service platform that combines predictive software with a network to manage consumer fleets.

It's not just about tire management, it's about a platform that improves vehicle availability and facilitates planning their destinations. AndGo minimizes uncertainties in fleet management, improves customer focus and enables tailor-made assistance 24 hours a day through mobile "workshops".

The CES also provided the backdrop for the presentation of Goodyear Ventures, a fund in which the company plans to invest $100 million over the next 10 years. The aim is to increase Goodyear's relationships with start-ups active in sustainability, safety and new mobility models. Goodyear Ventures will focus on areas such as electrical and autonomous technologies, connected mobility and new public services, including air travels. It will also focus on infrastructure, new maintenance models, emerging technologies and new tire materials.

Goodyear also plans to make available its global R&D and manufacturing resources.

So we have seen 3 very different examples of tire manufacturers' commitment to new mobility models. These are areas that have yet to be explored and consolidated but Michelin, Continental-Vitesco and Goodyear want to keep an eye on them so as not to miss the opportunities that might soon arise.

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