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GM stepping up tire research effort

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HALIFAX COUNTY, Va.—General Motors Co. is delving deeper into tire technology on its own accord, seeking to wring more fuel economy out of tires through research at the new National Tire Research Center (NTRC) in Halifax County, where the car maker has invested $5 million.

GM claims tire design, by some estimates, can help improve a vehicle's fuel efficiency by up to 7 percent. A tire's rolling resistance is determined by variations in tread pattern, construction, material quality and processing techniques, GM said.

“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,” said Ken Morris, GM's executive director of Global Vehicle Performance and Safety, and proving grounds and test labs.

GM engineers and scientists are expected to begin work in January with research partners at the NTRC, working together to accelerate the development of low rolling-resistance tire technology.

GM did not say how many technicians it will commit to the project or what its annual budget for studying tire technology will be.

The centerpiece of GM's research is the Flat-Trac LTRe, an $11.2 million piece of test equipment that uses electric motor technology that can run a tire up to 200 mph, GM said. Designed and built by MTS Systems Corp. of Eden Prairie, Minn., the Flat-Trac provides data on handling, ride, torque, and braking capabilities on various surfaces, including wet road conditions.

GM said it was “instrumental in developing the machine's test specifications.”

The Flat-Trac LTRe is capable of replicating all driving maneuvers of a passenger car or light truck on the road, GM said, allowing engineers to suggest modifications to 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—it opens up a whole new world of possibilities,” said Frank Della Pia, a former GM vehicle dynamics manager who is executive director for the tire research center. “It can test tires in the full range of the performance spectrum. This facility has no peer in the world. It's going to enable a transformational leap in tire technology.”

The center'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.

“The work GM will do with SovaMotion and the National Tire Research Center will further improve laboratory test methods and improve our overall vehicle development process,” Mr. Morris said. “Ultimately, that means better vehicles for our customers.”
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