The Nokian Hakkapeliitta is designed specifically for electric vehicles Image Credit: Supplied

Reinventing the wheel may sound like an unnecessary chore elsewhere, but when it comes to tyres, the results can be dramatic. Tyres account for around 20 per cent of a car’s fuel consumption, and technology that cuts down on that number can result in significant savings for the car owner.

Here are the latest crop of innovations in tyre tech:

Microscopic studs

At this year’s Tire Technology International Awards, the new Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 tyres rolled away with the Technology of the Year award. Designed specifically for electric vehicles, the tyre cuts down on rolling resistance by an impressive 30 per cent, resulting in tangible fuel savings.

The company says the secret of this new tyre is a rubber compound that includes microscopic, multi-edged, crystal-like particles that are diamond-rough. The crystals act as built-in studs and grab the driving surface with sharp and tough grip edges. The effect is especially noticeable on wet roads and slippery ice. Hakkapeliitta claims the effective grip is retained even as the groove depth of the tyres approaches the 4mm minimum safety level. 

A better all-season tyre

A close second for the best tech award was Michelin, with its all-weather CrossClimate technology — this is the world’s first summer tyre to obtain winter certification. Industry site TyreReviews calls it “the most interesting tyre of recent times”. Unlike standard tyres, which are a jack of all roads and master of none, the CrossClimate delivers 99 per cent of summer tyre performance in dry and wet weather, and 100 per cent winter tyre performance in snow traction and braking.

A side benefit is increased fuel efficiency. Michelin says the tyre manages this weatherproof performance through a combination of unique v-shaped tread patterns and new, higher-performing sipes. 

Alternative sources

Meanwhile, Bridgestone won the Tire Manufacturer of the Year award. Last year, the company began constructing tyres made with natural rubber obtained entirely from guayule, a plant that grows only in arid desert regions.

Bridgestone points out that 90 per cent of all natural rubber is harvested from the Pará rubber tree, which is primarily grown in tropical parts of Southeast Asia. So switching over to guayule not only alleviates the over-concentration of natural rubber production in certain regions but also takes the tyre company an important step closer to 100 per cent reliance on sustainable materials.

Down to the nano level

In October 2015, Sumitomo Rubber Industries announced the completion of the development of its Advanced 4D Nano Design, allowing it to precisely analyse the internal structure of rubber at the nano and micro-scales. The company claims that it managed to capture unseen structures and behaviour of polymer at the silica interface, an industry first.

This makes it possible to identify the locations of stress and heat generation within rubber, and create tyres that offer significant improvements in inherently contrary tyre performance traits — such as fuel efficiency, wet grip and wear resistance. Tyre-maker Falken has already absorbed this tech in its latest UHP tyre, the Azenis FK510 (in picture). 

Sideways into the future

If Goodyear has its way, tyres on autonomous vehicles will look unlike any you’ve seen before. In fact, they will look like oversized cricket balls. Showcased at the 86th Geneva International Motor show held last month, the Goodyear Eagle-360 tyres can rotate on any axis in any direction.

These tyres also come with embedded sensors that assess road and traffic conditions, monitor the treads and tyre pressure, and automatically adjust for an optimal drive. The tread pattern, inspired by brain coral, acts like a natural sponge, hardening when dry and softening when wet. Sounds too good to be true? Well, how about this — the tyres are not linked to the car via traditional axles. Instead, they float under the car using magnetic levitation.