Ford Motor Co. has established a research and design team to conduct research into innovative tires that improve safety, boost fuel economy and enhance vehicle handling.
Located at Ford's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, the dedicated tire team works closely with Ford's Chassis Engineering and Vehicle Engineering functions, as well as leading tire companies, Ford said, to test compounds, tread designs and other innovations. Current research is focused on the tread cap, where the rubber meets the road.
“Traditionally, the challenge of improving tire treads is to expand all facets of the ‘magic triangle'—grip, wear and rolling resistance,” said Dan Haakenson, technical expert, Vehicle Dynamics. “We want to improve all attributes without compromising others.
“Our goal is to anticipate, innovate and incorporate technologies to make Ford a leader in fuel economy and to help deliver superior low-rolling-resistance tires to customers faster than anyone else.”
“While Ford doesn't manufacture tires, we do want to become smart buyers for our customers,” said David Rohweder, global chief engineer for the car maker's Tire and Wheel Engineering unit.
“We are developing our own in-house expertise on tire materials and compounds,” said Cynthia Flanigan, technical leader of elastomers research. “And through our research we want to be the catalyst, working with chemical and rubber suppliers as well as tire manufacturers, to pull new technologies and solutions through the industry.”
Ford is doing research in a wide array of materials areas, Ms. Flanigan said, from the molecular level to sustainable raw materials. The research has led to innovations such as soy-based foam for seats. The research team has developed patent-pending technologies for ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) rubber, used in weather stripping, using bio-oils.
“Rubber is used throughout cars—weather strips, gaskets, interior trim, underbody shields, floor mats—so our research could benefit those as well,” Ms. Flanigan said.
The mandate to become more engaged with tire suppliers and manufacturers and to understand the benefits of low-rolling-resistance tires better has been under way since after the last spike in fuel prices in the summer of 2008, Ford said.
“Based on the feedback we received from chemical suppliers and tire companies, Ford is now at the forefront of understanding tire technologies on a deeper level and pushing hard for new technologies,” Ms. Flanigan said.
Ms. Flanigan's group was formed in October 2009 and works with Ford's Vehicle Engineering and Chassis Engineering teams to ensure potential tire material solutions can be implemented in Ford vehicles and exceed customer expectations.
“Each of our tires needs to satisfy customer demand for excellent grip in any condition dry or wet, for low noise levels, tires that handle well and have good rolling resistance,” Mr. Haakenson said.
Ford did not say how many technical personnel are involved in the research or what the team's budget is.
This report first appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.