Since 2009, Ford has been busy expanding its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan to include a team that focuses on tire technology. Working closely with the Chassis Engineering and Vehicle Engineering departments and premier tire manufacturers, the group is dedicated to creating tires that improve fuel efficiency, vehicle handling and safety.
One of the main challenges in tire design is finding a balance between tire grip, wear and rolling resistance. Better grip may improve safety, for example, but increase energy consumption at the same time. As vehicle dynamics expert Dan Haakenson explains, “We want to improve all attributes without compromising others.” Ford’s immediate mission is to develop new compounds and tread designs, which have a direct impact on rolling resistance.
The 2008 spike in fuel prices helped prompt the creation of Ford’s latest venture, as well as a “no-compromise” attitude to fuel economy. Drivers have already experienced the benefits of this new philosophy with many of Ford’s recent vehicles. The 2011 Ford Fiesta and 2012 Ford Focus boast impressive efficiency that rivals that of hybrid cars while the 2011 Mustang coupe is the first vehicle to get 31 mpg highway and 305 hp.
Tires play a major role in fuel efficiency, so much of Ford’s latest research concerns designs, systems and materials that can make them eco-friendly while also maintaining maximum performance. Global Chief Engineer for Tire and Wheel Engineering David Rohweder notes, “While Ford doesn’t manufacture tires, we do want to become smart buyers for our customers…Ford is leading the drive for innovation for fuel economy, and one mechanism to do that is through the research program on advanced tire technologies.”
In Dearborn, experts are quickly becoming familiar with cutting-edge materials that have the potential to revolutionize the tire industry. Working with chemical and rubber suppliers, researchers like Dr. Cynthia Flanigan (technical leader of elastomers research) can explore new alternatives, investigating everything from the molecular level to sustainable raw resources. Ford’s team has recently experimented with Ethylene Propylene Diene Monomer (EPDM) rubber and bio-oils, which has resulted in patent-pending technologies. Flanigan remarks, “We’re casting a wide net as we seek innovative and beneficial solutions for our customers.”
For more information and updates on Ford tire research, visit http://corporate.ford.com/innovation.