AKRON — This is the moment that Goodyear has been preparing for: The future mobility moment.
Electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles — they're here, and Goodyear has worked to position itself as a leader in a new mobility ecosystem.
"At Goodyear, we have proactively embraced this change, leaning forward and adapting our business in meaningful ways," Richard Kramer, Goodyear chairman, CEO and president, said.
Today, Goodyear feels even better about its position within the tire industry and remains confident in its ability to adapt, not only to a new mobility landscape, but in offering more sustainable tire products. That's because the Akron-based tire maker is poised to purchase Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
The pending $2.5 billion deal not only would expand Goodyear's global presence, but it also will boost both tire makers' expertise in areas of sustainability and new mobility.
"We believe that bringing the two companies together will make us a stronger, more competitive force in the industry, which is challenging," Cooper Tire President and CEO Brad Hughes said.
"It's a global industry with a lot of competition and a lot of new technology coming to the market."
Getting the newest, most sustainable tire technology to the market is only part of the equation, according to Messrs. Kramer and Hughes. The key, they said, is doing it quickly.
"It's not even that (new mobility) is on the horizon," Mr. Kramer said, "but it is right in front of us, and it's gaining speed."
Last year was a landmark one for electric vehicles (EVs). According to data from the Center for Automotive Research, EVs was the best performing segment of 2020. While overall vehicle sales in North America dropped about 17%, EVs fell only 4.8% in a challenging year that also saw low gas and oil prices, factors that typically hurt EV sales.
Now, more auto makers are poised to bring electrified models to the market, and they're investing heavily in the technology, especially for the light vehicle market.
General Motors Co. has pledged that all of its light vehicles will have electric powertrains by 2035. Ford Motor Co. aims to do the same in Europe by 2030.
As such, Goodyear has said it is determined to be a leader in the production of tires for electric vehicles, and it has focused product development to fine-tune areas such as noise reduction (particularly through the use of foams in tires), rolling resistance and managing the increased weight of electric vehicles.
Those efforts already are paying off, according to Mr. Kramer, who said roughly half of the new OE fitments Goodyear secured during 2020 are for EVs.
During a fourth quarter earnings call Feb. 9, Mr. Kramer noted Goodyear is heading into 2021 with momentum on the OE fitment side. Goodyear's OE fitments, he said, were up 6% in the fourth quarter, outperforming the industry overall.
"While I'm pleased with our recent performance," Mr. Kramer said, "I'm even more excited about the gains we expect in our OE business in 2021 and beyond.
"OEMs are recognizing the commitment we've made to developing tires that will help them transform their portfolios to more energy-efficient and eco-friendly vehicles, while delivering performance capabilities consumers demand."
Goodyear recently earned coveted OE fitments on high-profile electric vehicles such as GM's electric Hummer (Goodyear Wrangler Territory MT), as well as Volkswagen Group's ID.3 (Goodyear EfficientGrip Performance and the Goodyear UltraGrip Performance).
Opportunities such as these only should increase as auto makers step up their e-mobility game, committing more resources to the development of EVs.
Data released late last year by CAR indicates that by 2025, EVs will account for 18% of total vehicle sales. By 2030, they should have roughly 28% of the market share, and battery-equipped EVs and mild hybrid EVs are expected to account for the largest shares of the segment by then.
This trend toward electrification reinforces the need for a combined Goodyear-Cooper Tire company to pursue new technologies aggressively and develop products for electric, autonomous and shared vehicles.
"Scale and breadth are also key to winning in new mobility," Mr. Kramer said. "The change is driven by electrification of vehicles; shared mobility and the commercialization of autonomous vehicles are resulting in unprecedented disruption in the legacy auto industry and forced significant R&D investment."
Those investments are taking root in more complex and reliable advanced driver assistance systems for consumers and more advanced autonomous technology within the transportation sector.
Goodyear is ready to tackle those challenges, Mr. Kramer said, pointing to his company's research and development efforts focusing on connected and autonomous vehicles.
"We know there's been a lot of public focus around the experience being accumulated with regard to connected tire technology," Mr. Kramer said. "Our primary focus hasn't been around these statistics, but given the interest, we went back and calculated our accumulated connected miles, and it's a large number. As of year-end, we have over 1 billion miles of data on connected tires and no plans of slowing down this learning."
While OEMs and consumers focus on automotive technology, they're keeping their eyes on sustainability.
For the tire industry, sustainability matters on a number of levels. From the sourcing of raw materials to the manufacturing footprint to the lifecycle of the tire itself, sustainability is a core focus.
"I would say that on a couple of fronts here, we have been obviously thinking more about the sustainability of our products going forward," Mr. Kramer said.
One of those areas involves the development of soybean oils as a replacement for petrochemicals in tire compounding. Goodyear has made big strides with this development and looks to continue its research in this and other areas.
"We believe the percentage of sustainable products in tires is only going to increase, and we're on a path to do that, even doubling where we're at today," Mr. Kramer said. "A 100% sustainable tire is what we're moving toward."
Cooper, for its part, brings with it expertise in guayule as an alternative rubber source. The Findlay-based tire maker heavily invested in research and development of guayule from 2012-17.
Backed by a $6.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Cooper worked with Clemson University, Cornell University, PanAridus L.L.C. and the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA to explore the viability of guayule as a rubber source for tires.
Cooper was the leader in the consortium and developed several concept tires for passenger cars using guayule. The team found that the 100% guayule-based concept tires performed at least equal to tires made with hevea and synthetic rubber. Tires also performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than conventional counterparts, Cooper said.
According to Mr. Hughes, the strength of a combined Goodyear-Cooper company lies not only in the expertise each brings to the table, but also in the combined resources they have to drive innovation further in a demanding, ever-changing industry.
"(There are) opportunities to bring together two portfolios of technology that are being developed in the two organizations for some tires right now, but more as you're looking down into the future of the tire and automotive industry," Mr. Hughes said.
"Bringing those portfolios together, combining them, looking where there is overlap and opportunity to accelerate, opportunity to prioritize and to put certain technologies together to advance the outcomes faster — that's the exciting part."