HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — In a time of rapid technological and market change, tire makers have to be ready to implement a number of scenarios to ensure solid technology and business development, according to James A. Popio, vice president of operations, North America for Smithers Rapra.
"The automotive industry is changing faster than any other time in its history," he told those attending the 34th Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference, held recently at Hilton Head.
"Global dynamics and social dynamics are changing quickly," Mr. Popio said. "The future is not clear, so we must be ready for any number of scenarios."
Global economic, health and trade policies are helping to fuel the rapid change in markets, the Smithers Rapra exec said.
Growth in China is slowing, but the value of the global gross domestic product is expected to rise more than 3 percent for the next five years, he said.
There also are many uncertainties in international trade and development, according to Mr. Popio. Tariffs on Chinese tires combined with potential U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs to make the picture on trade unclear, he said.
Brexit, the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the threatened U.S. withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement have caused shifts in the global trade outlook, Mr. Popio said, as have changes in global tire manufacturing, highlighted by transfers of production from China to southeast Asian nations and recent investments in Eastern Europe and the U.S.
With expanding market shares in North America for SUVs and sports cars, high-performance, specialty and premium tires now are much more in demand.
The growing acceptance of electric-powered vehicles is creating higher load demands because of heavy battery packs, while the development of autonomous vehicles is creating impetus toward fuel efficiency, higher performance, reliability, durability and intelligence via sensors, he said.
Low-rolling-resistance, runflat and winter tires are more popular than ever, he said. Global urbanization is driving growth in demand for motorcycle tires, while sales of OTR tires are rebounding after years of decline.
With the changing portfolio of tire performance characteristics come changes in the materials used to make tires.