1. For performance and handling, the trend has long been toward fatter tires with a bigger footprint. That’s starting to change, though. Skinnier tires mean lower rolling resistance and better fuel economy, as well as a smaller aerodynamic profile. While fatter tires do handle better, tire engineers are making up the difference by designing skinny tires with a stickier tread formulation for traction and cornering ability.
2. Static electricity used to be a real concern for vehicles; if you’re old enough, you may remember seeing station wagons with a “ground strap” dragging along the pavement. It’s become a concern again, with newer tread compounds cutting back on the amount of carbon black in newer tires. The solution? Many tires are now designed with an “antenna strip” of more conductive material down the center of the tread, providing a positive electrical contact between tire and pavement.
3. Like with cars, tire manufacturers are doing everything they can to cut the weight of their products. A heavier tire means more inertia, while a lighter tire means lower rolling resistance. Bridgestone is now using a lighter gauge of cord for steel belts, and Michelin has actually cut the depth of the tread surface while using a tougher, high-mileage tread formulation for longer treadwear.
4. Sure, you know about the rubber, nylon, steel and Kevlar in modern tires. However, tires include some compounds you might not have known about, such as cobalt and titanium to bond the rubber to the steel belts. Yokohama uses citrus oil to modify how tread stiffness changes with temperature, and silica helps enhance wet and snow traction (as well as cutting rolling resistance).
5. Airless tires are on their way. They’re already in use for industrial vehicles and are pretty close to market phase for passenger cars and trucks. These tires (sometimes an integral tire/wheel) use a honeycomb- style structure to carry the vehicle’s weight and maintain rigidity. They’re amazingly tough, too – in some testing, drivers have been able to hit a curb dead-on at 50 mph with no damage to wheels, tires or suspension!