Toy­ota will give air­less tires a spin

Au­tomaker looks to re­duce weight for elec­tric ve­hi­cles


TOKYO— Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. is eye­ing air­less tires to help re­duce the weight of bat­tery-elec­tric and fuel-cell ve­hi­cles and boost per­for­mance, even though the tech­nol­ogy is years away from be­ing ready for com­mer­cial use.

The au­tomaker is us­ing air­less tires, fea­tur­ing in­di­vid­ual mo­tors in each wheel, on a ve­hi­cle for the first time with its hy­dro­gen-pow­ered con­cept car,

Fine-Com­fort Ride, un­veiled at the Tokyo Mo­tor Show last week, chief en­gi­neer Takao Sato said in an in­ter­view.

Since such tires com­prise a band of rub­ber en­cir­cling a plas­tic-alu­minum hub, the premise is that they could one day com­pen­sate for the weight of the mo­tors, he said.

Cur­rently, the con­cept tires weigh about the same as their pneu­matic cousins, but Sato is count­ing on de­vel­op­ments in the tech­nol­ogy that can help shave five kilo­grams (11 pounds) — or about 30 per cent — from each tire’s weight by as early as 2025.

Su­mit­omo Rub­ber In­dus­tries Ltd., which supplied the tires and has been test­ing them on lo­cal “kei” mini­cars and golf carts, said other Ja­panese car­mak­ers are also in­ter­ested, par­tic­u­larly for smaller elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

“For au­tomak­ers, the at­trac­tion of air­less tires is for elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cles,” Sato said.

While Toy­ota’s Fine-Com­fort Ride is the size of a cross­over SUV, “th­ese wheels could be used on any elec­tri­fied ve­hi­cle,” he said.

Wako Iwa­mura, head of the fiveyear air­less-tire project at Su­mit­omo Rub­ber, said his per­sonal tar­get is to have a com­mer­cial prod­uct ready by 2020.

The Ja­panese tire­maker is ac­tu­ally a late en­trant to the world of air­less tires, fol­low­ing oth­ers in­clud­ing Bridge­stone Corp. and Miche­lin & Cie. Miche­lin’s Tweel — a port­man­teau of tire and wheel — is cur­rently avail­able for lawn mow­ers, golf carts, con­struc­tion ma­chin­ery and recre­ational all-ter­rain ve­hi­cles.

The tech­nol­ogy is still un­proven on pas­sen­ger cars, and man­u­fac­tur­ers will need to con­vince both au­tomak­ers and the pub­lic that they are safe to use.

A lighter tire is only one of Iwa­mura’s goals.

The other chal­lenge to over­come is rolling re­sis­tance, or the fric­tion that works against the tire when it’s in mo­tion.

He es­ti­mates it’s 10 per cent to 20 per cent worse than cur­rent pneu­matic tires, a level un­ac­cept­able for ve­hi­cles that need to squeeze every kilo­me­tre of driv­ing range from their lithium-ion bat­ter­ies.

Cost, how­ever, won’t be a hur­dle. Iwa­mura says his tires are al­ready com­pa­ra­ble in price to those filled with air.

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