As the only contact points between vehicle and road, tyres play a crucial role in maximising the potential efficiency of any commercial vehicle powertrain. Tread patterns, manufacturing techniques and technical innovation that provides wear and load monitoring, are all contributing towards achievement of a shared goal: reduced fleet emissions.
“Government has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from HGVs by 15% by 2025 – and transport fleets are increasingly considering sustainability in their purchasing decisions,” Chris Smith, Michelin UK managing director tells us, referencing the company’s €600m annual commitment to R&D that, “has helped push the limits of fuel efficiency to unlock greater sustainability benefits for our customers.”
Optimisation challenges are not limited to HGVs, of course, and the breadth of the CV industry ensures that a range of solutions are required that covers everything from vans to coaches and buses, the emergence of alternative propulsion technologies such as electrification and hydrogen, and regional and long-distance hauliers.
Tyres for HGVs have already changed. For example, Michelin uses its InfiniCoil (a continuous steel belt of up to 400m that provides the tyre with greater stability) and Powercoil (steel casing cables that help make tyres lighter, reducing rolling resistance while increasing endurance) technologies in tyres such as its X Line Energy and X Multi Energy Z and D ranges. These products, says Smith, “Improve rolling resistance and longevity, limiting the impact commercial vehicles have on the environment. They offer huge potential for UK fleets.”
The long-distance range of tyres have already helped Volvo Trucks to achieve record-breaking efficiency road tests when fitted to a 4×2 Volvo FM 420 and 6×2 Volvo FH 460. Multi Energy tyres also utilise advanced mixing techniques to increase the silicon content compared to traditional tyres, providing higher mileage potential.
Manufacturers have also devised methods of enhancing fleet efficiency beyond simply reducing tailpipe emissions. Continental’s Conti C.A.R.E. (Connected. Autonomous. Reliable. Electrified.) concept has been designed to meet the needs of future electric mobility solutions and provides a Cloud-based connectivity that offers fleet operators advanced management options. Built-in sensors will generate and evaluate data on tread depth, possible damage, tyre temperature and pressure, including offering the ability to optimise tyre pressures on the move. This will enable proactive and timely maintenance opportunities, as well as ensuring vehicles are operating optimally.
Michelin first launched Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in its truck tyres in 2012 and believes it is a significant contributor to predictive maintenance services. “Currently, up to 90 per cent of all our truck tyres sold are fitted with identification technology and, in line with the car segment, we have recently committed to fitting all Michelin truck tyres with RFID chips by 2023,” explains Smith. “This brings infinite potential and added value for our customers – not least helping fleets greatly improve tyre management from factory to end-of-life via predictive maintenance.”
According to Michelin, RFID also provides end-of-life advantages: the technology could be used to improve recycling rates, allow proof of recycling and help improve the efficiency of energy recovery programmes.
In terms of reducing the environmental whole-life impact of fleets, as early alternative fuel technology adopters the bus and coach sector is already heavily invested. With a number of electric and hydrogen-fuelled fleets rolled out across the UK from London to Aberdeen, the sector can further benefit from advanced tyre technologies to optimise the efficiency of their chosen powertrains.
“As with all electric vehicles, bus tyres are exposed to higher torque when moving off and accelerating,” says Continental Truck Tires automotive engineer, Ben Hudson, of the unique challenges facing the sector. “In town traffic in particular, vehicles need to run very quietly, so that the comfort offered by quiet electric drive isn’t diminished by loud road-tyre noise.”
The regenerative braking systems fitted to electric buses also places the tyres of drive axles under increased strain, says the company, which has recently launched its Conti Urban HA3 tyre featuring a higher load index for use on such vehicles: up to 8 tonnes per axle.
Fortunately, technologies are emerging that not only enable higher load index, but which can offer digital load monitoring capability. Continental, for example, has developed an On Board Weighing System (OBWS) that records and displays the weight of commercial vehicles, including trailers. The company states that it allows fleet operators to ensure that vehicles are within a safe range before it leaves the depot, and enables efficient loading during its runs.
“Even if the load is measured by sensors in the road in the future, the integrated solution will remain interesting for forwarding agents, fleet managers and drivers,” adds Marc Leinemann, Continental project manager involved with the system’s development.
Electrification is not the only merging alternative fuel. “Interest in hydrogen is increasing, and that is being driven largely by commercial vehicle pioneers – large fleets which know that sustainability will be morally and commercially imperative over the next 10 years,” concludes Michelin’s Chris Smith, explaining the company’s new hydrogen-focused joint-project. “Commercial vehicles are likely to be among the first segments to have this new fuel source readily available and this will no doubt have an impact on how we approach the evolution of our truck tyre development in the future. It is also why Michelin, together with automotive technology specialist Faurecia, have jointly formed Symbio; a company which aims to become a world leader in hydrogen mobility by developing, producing, and marketing hydrogen fuel cell systems for light vehicles, commercial vehicles, buses and trucks, as well as for other areas of electromobility.”