Canadian Manufacturing

National Tire Research Center looking to speed up development of fuel-efficient tires

Tire design can help improve fuel efficiency by up to seven per cent, automaker says


DETROIT—General Motors’ drive to improve vehicle fuel economy is expected to gain traction in January when research begins at the new National Tire Research Center in Halifax County, Va.

GM chipped in $5-million to the facility, which uses state-of-the-art tire performance machinery that will enable automakers and tire manufacturers to replicate real-world emergency events and improve vehicle highway safety.

By some estimates, tire design can help improve fuel efficiency by up to seven per cent, according to the automaker.

“The work we’ll undertake at the National Tire Research Center will have a big impact on how quickly next-generation tire technologies will be developed and the accuracy of their design and engineering,” GM’s executive director of global vehicle performance and safety Ken Morris said in a statement.

A tire’s rolling resistance is determined by variations in tread pattern, construction, material quality and processing techniques.

Ultimately, the lower the rolling resistance, the less fuel is needed to move the vehicle forward.

Low rolling resistance tires are expected to help customers save money at the gas pump, as will more efficient conventional engines and electric powertrains.

The centre’s $11.2-million tire performance test equipment, known as Flat-Trac LTRe, is unique in its use of electric motor technology and can run a tire up to 200-mph.

It provides data on handling, ride, torque and braking capabilities on various surfaces, including wet road conditions.

The Flat-Trac LTRe is capable of replicating all driving maneuvers of a passenger car or light truck on the road.

GM and other automotive engineers will be able to use the data collected by the equipment to predict vehicle performance and modify tire characteristics to improve performance for low rolling resistance, better road-holding capability and other criteria.

“This facility’s test equipment is like going from a basic telescope to the Hubble,” former GM vehicle dynamics manager, now executive director of the tire research centre, Frank Della Pia said. “It opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

The centre’s facilities also include the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion (SoVa Motion) Laboratory, strategically located in the heart of the Virginia Motorsports Alley at the Virginia International Raceway.

SoVa Motion offers shock and suspension testing, virtual prototyping of vehicle components and a range of on-vehicle sensing such as wheel force transducers.

SovaMotion will take advantage of the Tire Center’s test data to conduct drive and handling simulations that could help reduce time and cost of vehicle program development.

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