The clock is ticking for combustion engines and conventional tyres

Thursday 27th July 2017 | 0 Comments

From 2040 sales of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned in the UK
From 2040 sales of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned in the UK

The UK government has decided to ban the sale of both new petrol and new diesel cars from 2040. The goal isn’t as ambitious as Norway’s, which aims to do the same by 2025. India thinks it can do it by 2031. And France is on par with the UK, also aiming to ban sales of new combustion engine-based cars by 2040. However, in the UK at least, electric cars sales currently represent less than 1 per cent of new registrations. Therefore a lot has to happen between now and 2040 for this new rule to become reality. What is clear is that there is now real legislative momentum in favour of electric vehicles in the UK and that this will have an inevitable impact on OE suppliers, and in turn the UK replacement tyre market, especially in three key areas: weight, torque and rolling resistance.

Recent years have seen the car parc move in favour of diesel engines. The fact that these are generally larger and heavier required larger and heavier braking systems brought larger wheel diameters and necessarily resulted in wider sizes too. The combinations of these larger sizes came in tandem with the adoption of more modern and generally more powerful engines, which demanded higher speed ratings from tyres. Put the two together and you can see why the high performance tyre market has grown so rapidly during the last decade.

Electric vehicles are quite different – specifically in terms of weight. First, contrary to popular belief, electric vehicles are generally 20 to 30 per cent heavier than their conventional counterparts. However, this weight is distributed differently to combustion cars – rather than all the weight being focused on the engine, electric vehicles have two large weight drivers: the drivetrain and the batteries. Of course batteries can be spread differently in different models and drivetrains are markedly different in different models too. This means the tyres of the future will be have to be capable of bearing comparably greater weights and designing them will be more model specific than ever.

Then there’s the torque factor. Electric engines deliver torque quite differently to combustion engines. Electric propulsion torque is a simple linear curve as opposed to a more complex graduated one in combustion engines. This means two things: instant power and no drop-off in continued power output. This requires even more of tyres than high-performance speed ratings currently test for. So could this result in such ratings being re-named as torque ratings rather than simply speed ratings? And secondly the torque factor – as well as the more complex introduction of computer aided torque vectoring in electric vehicles – means tyres will have to be better at handling than ever.

And finally, rolling resistance performance is likely to become even more important. Owing to the facts that electric vehicles are generally uncomfortable with ranges as high as 300 miles and that the charging infrastructure is still developing, getting the most out of whatever battery life they have is important. That’s why tyre rolling resistance performance is only becoming more important.

Put the three together and you can see that there are significant tyre development challenges ahead. Not only that, but when you add in the fact that we haven’t even considered regulatory requirements or safety demands in our discussion, it is likely that the shape of tyres will literally change as well. Much has been said about tall and narrow tyres, but will such products be able to deliver the performance to meet all of these performance requirements?

As much as 20 years transition after 2040

Still there is time, as recent data released by BMW shows. The UK government announcement banning combustion engines came just 24 hours after the BMW Group announced that its new battery-electric Mini will be constructed in the UK at the firm’s Cowley, Oxfordshire plant on 25 July. This fully electric car will go into production in 2019, with supplies coming from across Europe. The drivetrain will be built at the BMW Group’s e-mobility centre in Dingolfing and Landshut in Bavaria before being integrated into the car in Oxford, which is the main production location for the Mini 3 door model.

By 2025, the BMW Group expects electrified vehicles to account for between 15 and 25 per cent of sales. From here on BMW’s electrification process continues. The new, fully electric Mini is one of a series of electrified models to be launched by the BMW and Mini brands in the coming years. In 2018, the BMW i8 Roadster will become the newest member of the BMW i family. The all-electric BMW X3 has been announced for 2020, and the BMW iNEXT is due in 2021.

While it is inevitable that recent news will make people think about the future, the government has not brought in a blanket ban of all petrol and diesels – just the sales of new vehicles. Therefore it will take years after 2040 for the combustion market to disappear completely. Indeed Simon Heath, director and automotive specialist at KPMG UK, said it could take another two decades for this to happen: “The 2040 target is a big aspirational headline. In reality, this would only apply to new passenger vehicles, and it’s likely to take a further 20 years to clear UK roads of traditional petrol and diesel vehicles…” However with the OEMs themselves electrifying production, the clock is well and truly ticking.

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