The next generations of tires not only will connect with the vehicle, providing data to the drivers, but could also communicate with the road and even surrounding infrastructure to help determine driving conditions and situations.
"There's going to be an aspect of intelligence that's coming in the future," Goodyear's Mr. Rohweder said.
Central to the company's approach is something it calls Sightline technology, which uses sensors and cloud-based algorithms to inform operators about performance.
The predictive maintenance technology, the company said, will help anticipate breakdowns and monitor tire pressure and wear to help improve safety and save money.
Goodyear likened Sightline to a smart watch for tires. Instead of providing heart rate or blood oxygen levels, the technology monitors the performance and condition of the tire.
A convergence of connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) megatrends, Bridgestone's Mr. Dorfi said, is helping drive changes in the tire industry
"The essential function of tires to deliver safe and efficient performance are unchanged, but these megatrends are resulting in unique demands being placed on tire technology not only in performance, but as a driver for environment improvement," he said.
"In the case of connected and autonomous (vehicles), tires need to become smarter through technologies built into the tire to assist the vehicle," Mr. Dorfi said.
"As the only portion of the vehicle connected to the road, the tire has the unique ability to deliver valuable information to the vehicle in real time as road or tire conditions change. This makes drivers, vehicles, and tires smarter and safer.
"Electric vehicles pose a challenge in tire design to support unique design elements such as increased overall weight, higher torque, regenerative braking, the need for extended range and a quieter ride," he added.
Form and function
Along with connectivity, the future for tires faces a more fundamental question. What will they look like?
Non-pneumatic, or airless tires, which rely on a mechanical inner structure instead of air for support, are emerging but still have a long way to go before they can be widely adopted.
TIA represents businesses that make their living selling and servicing pneumatic tires. As work on airless tires continues, the industry ultimately will be hard-pressed to replace the pneumatic tire in most applications anytime soon, according to TIA's Mr. Rohlwing.
"For the automotive market, to go to an airless tire, I know there are technologies out there, but the question is: Is it light enough? Is it sturdy enough? Is it flexible enough? Does it still provide the right traction? Is the ride similar to air?" Mr. Rohlwing asked. "It's pretty hard to beat riding on a cushion of air."
He does see a future where airless tires could thrive being used on truck trailers, where the wheels mostly move forward and are not subjected to the stress and strain of tires on the front of the big rigs. These trailer tires only have to roll and carry weight, he said. "They don't have to do much."
Whatever the future holds for tires, the general public will have its share of the say, Mr. Rohlwing said. The aesthetics of tires, because they are such a prominent part of a vehicle, also will play a role.
"For an old guy like me, I can't help but say, 'Hey you've pretty much got the perfect solution right there,' " with the current approach, he said. "Let's just keep making that better. Let's find ways to make natural rubber more sustainable. Let's reduce our dependency on it. Let's find a way to recycle better."
Regardless of future design, the USTMA's Ms. Luke said, manufacturers will play a larger role in the years ahead.
"The way I look at it is tire manufacturers must be conveners and solution drivers and, as I said in the beginning, connectors. We have to be, this is very important. We have to be willing to be transparent in that and take a hard look at our values as organizations and businesses and our business models to make sure we are always pushing for the absolute best performance in every sense of the word," Ms. Luke said.
While the evolution of an industry is never like turning on a light switch, going from dark to light, Ms. Luke said, there has been tremendous acceleration in the industry in recent years about a broadening role tires can and will play.
"I would say, in the past couple of years, our understanding of our critical role as a connector, as a convener, as a solution driver in this mobility ecosystem has just accelerated exponentially," she said.
Lines of communication
Bridgestone sees a future where tires become much more integrated with both the vehicle and the driver.
"We are thinking beyond performance to how the tire can be a source of information for drivers and vehicles, such as air pressure, road conditions, wear life," Mr. Dorfi said.
"Connected vehicles and intelligent tires will also allow us to optimize the operational conditions, using predictive and prescriptive analytics and deliver further value to our customers. The insights from these connected transportation systems will also drive innovations in adjacent fields such as road surface quality monitoring or routing optimization," he said.
The tire industry takes what Mr. Cunat said is a "market-back" approach when designing new tires, with the needs based on customers and end-users.
"For OE, we obtain specific requirements for a specific vehicle platform and work with the OEM to optimize the performance for their specific vehicle. In addition, we obtain input from JD Power surveys each year that provide end user feedback specific to OE tires," he said.
"For the replacement market, we obtain feedback from customers and dealers on our performance. In addition, our marketing team is constantly monitoring the market and its needs. All of this information enables the business to determine when we should upgrade a tire, develop a new tire, and or enter a whole new segment in the market," Mr. Cunat said.
"Tire development time has significantly been reduced over the years through predictive tools that have advanced over the years. Currently, we can iterate tire construction and design variants through more advanced modeling," he continued.
"This enables us to reduce the number of physical build and testing iterations which takes much longer. The length of the development depends on the requirements of the application. In some cases, we can develop a tire within a year."
With growing emphasis on electric and autonomous vehicles, Mr. Cunat said he believes the tire industry will be in for plenty of change in the years ahead.
"As technology continues to evolve, the goal is to completely design and release in the virtual world. This is something many tire and vehicle manufacturers are working on together to find the ultimate solution," Mr. Cunat said. "The performance requirements for both vehicles and tires are very demanding, so this is a big and exciting challenge."
Mr. Rohweder said the tires of tomorrow will outperform those of today all along the supply chain, from environmental impact during construction to emissions from vehicle use to end-of-life disposal. But those improvements will take effort.
"It's a real puzzle right now to address all these changes that are coming. It's actually a pretty challenging problem," he said. "There's a lot that's changing."