by David Cullen, Contributing Editor
New federal rules pushing development of more fuel-efficient tires and retreads
Government forces bent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from commercial trucks through increased fuel efficiency are driving manufacturers of truck tires and retreads to build products that deliver the largest possible contribution to miles-per-gallon performance. That’s why tire and retread suppliers are all about closing what can be termed the mpg loop—the contribution rubber on the road makes to truck fuel efficiency, whether it’s as an original tire, a replacement tire, or as one or more retreads in fleet service.
Among the first developments to accelerate the birth of more fuel-efficient tires and retreads was the GHG limits placed on certain highway tractors, which were put forth by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) back in 2008 and came into effect in 2010.
CARB, by the way, estimates that by the close of 2020, its GHG reg will have saved truck operators “about $8.6 billion when diesel fuel consumption is reduced by as much as 750 million gals. in California and by 5 billion gals. across the nation.” And per CARB, that fuel-efficiency gain will come thanks to “improvements in tractor and trailer aerodynamics and the use of low rolling resistance tires.”
At pretty much the same time the CARB rule came about, mpg-savvy truck owners as well as those responding to environmentally conscious shippers began to increasingly seek out tires that met the fuel-consumption criteria required for verification by the voluntary SmartWay program launched by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Yet another mpg pressure point being applied to tires is the federal GHG rules that will begin to be imposed on commercial truck OEMs starting less than two years from now.
And to be sure, the contribution retreads can make to closing the mpg loop has at last caught the spotlight in a big way. In June, as part of its SmartWay program, EPA started a fuel-efficiency verification program for “tire retread technologies for use on linehaul Class 8 trucks.”
EPA states that the resulting verified “low rolling resistance retread products” will provide cuts in fuel consumption of at least 3% compared to the “most popular retreaded products now in use.”
Retread suppliers must test their products and demonstrate they meet the required performance criteria to be listed by SmartWay as verified retreads. EPA notes that to obtain the minimum fuel-consumption reductions, “verified tires or retreads must be used on the drive and trailer positions, with EPA-verified steer tires, and all tires must be properly inflated according to the manufacturer’s specifications.”
“The additional expansion of the voluntary SmartWay program plus the CARB and GHG rules for OEMs together are pointing the industry in the right direction for improved fuel efficiency,” contends Guy Walenga, director of engineering-commercial products & technologies for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. “The goal, of course, is to reduce vehicle emissions for cleaner air and the side benefit is less fuel will get burned. It’s a win-win all around.”
Make no mistake, retread makers are making fast tracks to attain SmartWay verification. “We are in the testing phase of our fuel-saving products [for SmartWay verification] by one of the major EPA-approved U.S. testing labs,” relates Giampaolo Brioschi, product manager for retread supplier Marangoni.
“As soon as we have the results, we will apply for the SmartWay approval,” he continues. “In our case, we have combined Marangoni’s splice-less Ringtread technology with advanced compounding and tread designs to maximize fuel efficiency while maintaining very long mileage and increasing reliability.”
Continental Tire the Americas’ Commercial Vehicle Tire unit has already submitted two low rolling resistance retreads for SmartWay verification: the HDL Eco Plus ContiTread (drive-axle retread) and the HTL Eco Plus ContiTread (for trailers).
“Because of the adoption of these standards by the SmartWay Transport Partnership, the importance of manufacturing retreaded truck tires that perform just as well as new products has been brought to the forefront,” says Paul Williams, Continental’s executive vice president for truck tires, the Americas.
“Our ContiTreads have always been made with the same standards and tread patterns as our new tires, which are the largest number of products verified by SmartWay today for low rolling resistance,” he notes.
Paul Crehan, Michelin’s product marketing director, says the company’s process to attain SmartWay verification of its retreads is under way and will result in the “approval [of] a wide range of our products.”
“The SmartWay retread program is a real opportunity for the industry to close the loop on the mpg gains low rolling resistance tires and retreads deliver by ensuring fuel-efficient rubber is available throughout the product lifecycle,” says Bridgestone’s Walenga.
“Up until now,” he continues, “there’s not been a lot of emphasis on closing that loop in trucking, but having these targets out there will lead more fleets to consider retreads as a means of benefitting from fuel efficiency continuously.”
Walenga says having the “EPA imprint” on retreads will get the attention of fleet owners who had “previously tended to give up on fuel efficiency once a tire was retreaded. In short, we’re very glad EPA has done this.”
While Double Coin doesn’t yet supply retreads, Aaron Murphy, vice president of CMA, the North American subsidiary of Double Coin Holdings, is quick to point out that “once we enter into that segment of the business, which is in our strategic plan, we plan to provide verified-technology retreads that will be SmartWay-approved.”
Roger Stansbie, Continental’s director of radial truck tire technologies-the Americas, reports that the impact of upcoming GHG rules on tires for truck OEMs will be “slightly kinder” than what SmartWay verification requires of new tires in terms of rolling-resistance levels.
Regarding the GHG limits, Stansbie says that Continental is “already doing lots of testing with the OEMs and working on a new generation of tires” with the GHG rules in mind. “And the GHG specifics only suggest what the contribution of tires may be. But there’s the strong possibility that in the next five to 10 years, a 10 to 15% improvement in tire rolling resistance will be seen,” he predicts. “Keep in mind a 5% decrease in rolling resistance equals a 1% gain in fuel efficiency.”
Stansbie adds that such a performance mark as 10 or 15% better “has not yet been stated by SmartWay, but it has been suggested.”
Stansbie points out that, in general, the bigger challenge ahead for tire and retread makers is not what SmartWay, which is oriented toward long-haul trucking, or the federal GHG reg may require, but what must be done to reduce the rolling resistance of on/off-road tires.
He says the upshot of the GHG impact is that OEMs “may ask us to fine-tune rolling resistance further” to improve the mpg performance of more truck types. “And because the rule kicks in for 2014 truck models, the OEMs will begin production next year and the tires will have to be ready for them,” Stansbie notes.
“Yokohama has developed and produced fuel-efficient tires for years—from even before EPA and SmartWay became involved,” states Rick Phillips, Yokohama’s director of commercial sales. “This is something we continue to focus on. Every new commercial-tire product that we have on the drawing board has an eye on fuel efficiency, not only for our OEM partners, but also for our fleet partners who are dedicated to improving fuel efficiency.”
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