One of the most overlooked components of an automobile is almost certainly its tires. If they’re holding air and not making an excessive amount of noise, most people don’t think twice about them. While tires can indeed be easy to ignore, there have been advancements in past decade worth noting as we also look at what the future holds.
Being a tire geek along with working for a communications agency that focuses on transportation, I wanted to learn more. To gain some additional insight, we tapped automotive journalist and tire enthusiast, Joel Feder of Motor Authority, to talk about where the tire industry has been and where it might be headed over the next 10 years.
Steve Diehlman: What was the biggest overall advancement in passenger car tires over the last 10 years?
Joel Feder: Supercar and sports car tires have come a long way in terms of grip and usability. Heck, we now have hypercars topping 300 mph on street-legal Michelins. How sticky and aggressive they’ve become while maintaining a street-legal designation is amazing. Comfort, quietness, and efficiency improvements along with durability have moved tire technology forward. OEMs have become more involved, too. There are some versions of certain tires engineered for specific applications to maximize each car’s capability.
SD: Based on what you’re seeing and the rate of advancement in the tire business, what do you think will be the biggest breakthrough in tires that we’ll actually see on the road by 2030?
JF: Airless tires are revolutionary, but I don’t think they will go mainstream. Tires will continue to be evolutionary vs revolutionary. Fuel efficiency is where the biggest gains will likely happen. Automakers also need to balance price with comfort. Supercar tires are where we’ll see the real breakthroughs though. With so much money invested in motorsports, the tire makers are trying to eek out milliseconds. We definitely see that tech in consumer tires once it’s validated on the track.
SD: Do you think advancements in motorsports tires actually trickle down to consumer products?
JF: Yes. It’s all about the rubber compounds. Racecars go fast and tires are put through a lot. All that data the tire companies gain makes its way into consumer products at some level. It’s an excellent form of testing.
SD: What current tire technologies do you think are just fads and are likely to fade in the coming years?
JF: Spokeless tweels. Those aren’t happening on passenger cars, but I do see where they could be of use in heavy equipment or agriculture. Run flats are also just a fad and I’m more than ready for them to disappear into the history books.
SD: What tire safety feature do you wish consumers would pay more attention to when buying tires and during ownership?
JF: Hands down, it’s winter tires. Everyone in northern climates should have a second set of tires. The myth that it’s exponentially more expensive to run winter tires is false. Two sets of tires will extend the life of both and keep all safer on the road.
People being cheap about tires bothers me. If you don’t know the brand name, you probably shouldn’t buy them. Don’t cheap out on tires. It’s four pieces of rubber that keep you and your family safe. Of all the things to buy generic or cheap out on, tires aren’t one of them.
SD: If there were one thing you would recommend consumers consider when buying tires, what would it be?
JF: There are four pieces of rubber between you and the road. Don’t be cheap. Companies with a bigger R&D budgets simply have a better opportunity to deliver a higher-quality product in most cases.
SD: Regarding tire safety, if you could say one thing to all U.S. drivers, what would it be?
JF: Whether it’s sunny and dry or snow-covered roads, I urge drivers to drive within their limits and within the limits of their car.
SD: Regarding passenger car tires, who is doing it best right now?
JF: There are a lot of amazing tires out there and Michelin has an amazing breadth of products. They have great winter, off-road, performance and touring tires. A lot of people are running the Pilot Sport 4S and Pilot Sport Cup 2s – the latter are basically street-legal race tires. You can buy them on a stock Mustang too! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Pirelli, Continental, and Nokian as products I currently like and recommend.