The tires on an electric car are an often overlooked yet vital component. Advanced battery packs, efficient motors, and cutting edge thermal management systems often steal the spotlight when talking about the technical merits of electric cars, but the tires on their own deserve some attention. As with any disruptive technology, the electrification of the automobile has presented the tire industry with a new challenge: make a tire that has low rolling resistance, low noise, but can still handle the instant torque of an electric motor.
WIRED featured an article in May of 2016 that explored the quest for the “perfect” electric car tire. The article noted that, “Electric vehicles complicate things further, because they demand more of everything. They lack the roar of an engine to drown out the brain-numbing drone of rubber on asphalt, so quiet matters. Range is crucial, so the tires must play their part in pulling every mile from every watt. The torquey performance demands rubber stout enough to keep up.”
In short, a sticky tire will grip better and thus better handle the instant torque of an electric motor, but will sap the car’s electric range due to high rolling resistance. As electric cars place range at a premium, grip must be achieved without sacrificing too many miles. Likewise, a tire that is durable enough to handle the instant torque will likely be a loud tire. Without the noise of an internal combustion engine, wind and tire noise become more noticeable.
Electric cars demand everything from their tires and concede nothing. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, it has spurred tire companies to invest in new research and development for purpose-built electric car tires. The Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires that come standard on the all-new Chevrolet Bolt EV are custom built specifically for that car. Similarly, the Tesla Model S comes equipped with Goodyear Eagle Touring/TO Tesla tires constructed specifically for the Model S. They feature a foam liner for enhanced tire-noise reduction while maintaining durability and grip. Hankook too has developed the Enfren Echo tires that feature low rolling resistance coupled with an environmentally-friendly manufacturing process. These new tires are arguably on the cutting edge of tire technology. They are quiet, durable, and sticky without sacrificing too much range.
As electric car sales accelerate, competition between tire manufacturers to provide the best “EV tire” will continue to offer electric cars improved efficiency, better performance, and possibly even more range. These improvements are yet another incremental technological advancement pushing electric cars further into the mainstream.