Bridgestone’s radical idea ? but not for cars

Industry

Bridgestone’s radical new “airless tires” technology is coming to vehicles soon — but probably not in the way automakers assume.

The Japanese manufacturer wants to get its technology into the hands of commercial truck owners rather than onto ordinary passenger vehicles.

The tires use a recycled thermoplastic “web” as their core, replacing the pressurized air of traditional tires.

The company has developed and is preparing to market large tires that can support 5,000 pounds of weight.

The company first plans to launch a much smaller and lighter version of them on ordinary bicycles, providing a fleet of airless-tire bikes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Bridgestone is the official tiremaker.

But it will then more or less skip over the world’s passenger-vehicle market and instead dive into producing the tires for commercial trucks, according to Jon Kempel, executive director for new mobility solution engineering at Bridgestone Americas.

It’s not so much a question of where the volume is, Kempel explained — it’s a matter of where the need is. And also the interest.

Truck fleet operators are driving the new technology, he said.

“Fleet operators are asking us for these,” Kempel told Automotive News. “This technology solves a problem for them and it saves them money. Their job is to keep their trucks on the road, and you can’t do that when your tires are not properly inflated.

“On the truck side,” he added, “there’s an air-related issue every 8,000 miles. If they’ve got a truck that’s not running, it’s costing them money.”

Japan-based Bridgestone ranks among the world’s largest tire producers.

Last year, it manufactured an estimated 180 million tires.

The global truck market is smaller than the original-equipment passenger-vehicle market. But Kempel said that trucking is still a substantial business that needs innovative solutions.

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