GUELPH, Ontario — Service Manager Mike Doucette has faced customers frustrated with the lack of selection when it's time to replace the tires on their electric vehicles.
At his Guelph, Ontario, dealership, Barry Cullen Chevrolet, Chevrolet Bolt owners generally have little choice but to stick with original equipment.
A Bolt's OE Michelin tires should be good for 25,000 to 37,000 miles before they need replacing, Doucette said.
"I'm going to guess that maybe 85% to 90% (of customers) are putting the Michelin back on."
Customers seeking an alternative will take their business to an aftermarket competitor, Doucette said.
As EVs rack up miles and owners shop for new tires, the selection of EV-specific replacement tires hasn't kept pace, at least in Canada and the U.S. That limits what dealers can offer and often leaves vehicle owners with the option of either buying another set of original-equipment tires or tires not designed for EVs.
Tire makers are addressing the challenge in various ways, including the use of novel compounds and changes to the tire's carcass, tread depth and sipe design.
The goal is to create products that approach the range and quietness of original-equipment tires while improving performance and tread life.
"I think this is where the market is going to," Ian Coke, Pirelli North America's chief technical officer, said. "I think a lot of us are very interested in that."
Trade-offs: tread lightly
Tire design rests on a balancing act of grip, rolling resistance and tread wear, David Reese, vice-president of Americas product development at Goodyear, said.
"Traditionally, you pull on any one of those legs, and you may have a trade-off on one of the other legs," he said. "There are not necessarily different trade-offs for EVs, but maybe they're a little bit more accentuated."
Factor in a quiet ride — necessary since tire noise is no longer masked by the sounds of an internal-combustion engine — and the balancing act becomes even trickier.
For OE tires, auto makers want designs that fit their brand's mission, particularly low rolling resistance to maximize range, Coke said.
"That's not necessarily aligned with [what] the consumer needs on a day-to-day basis," he said.
When it comes time for replacement, EV owners might value better grip or longer tire life over the range. For commuters driving short distances and recharging every night, buying tires built for long range is even less important.
"Do you need 300 miles of range if we can give 50% more mileage of (tire life)?" Coke asked.
The replacement tires Michelin sells are well-suited to EVs, if not aimed specifically at them, Russell Shepherd, technical communications director at Michelin North America, said. Michelin operates three plants in Nova Scotia.
"We like to say they're EV-rated," he said. "Many of our tires, whether they're original equipment or not, are low rolling resistance, and they will perform well on an electric vehicle."
Likewise, Bridgestone Americas chief engineer Dale Harrigle said the company's current tire lines fulfill necessary criteria without an official EV designation.
"We can meet a lot of these elements with a lot of our currently available technology," he said, but Bridgestone is working on EV-specific features, Harrigle said, adding, "We are in the early stages of development."
EV rubber hits the road
Some EV-oriented tires have begun to show up, albeit in limited sizes.
In late 2021, Goodyear announced the launch of its first EV replacement tire, the ElectricDrive GT all-season, while Michelin rolled out the Pilot Sport EV. Both are intended for sporty EVs rather than family sedans and SUVs.
Bridgestone said it expects EV tires to make up 90% of production by 2030.
EV-specific winter tires remain rare, which could be problematic for dealers in Quebec, for example, since the province requires winter tires be put on vehicles. There's Nokian's Hakkapeliitta 10 EV, and Pirelli offers the P Zero Winter, Winter Sottozero 3 and Scorpion Winter, with its quiet-running Elect technology for EVs and hybrids.
The industry has adopted a new high-capacity load (HL) standard for tires aimed at EVs and plug-in hybrids, whose battery packs often make them far heavier than comparably sized internal-combustion vehicles. These tires can handle more weight than the extra-load (XL) tires now found on most EVs and will be important as more electric pickups hit the market.
Pirelli's P Zero HL was chosen as original equipment for the Lucid Air sedan. An XL version is also available for the Mustang Mach-E GT, which starts life on Michelins.