Toyota is looking to reduce the weight of its battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles, while also boosting their performance. Although the technology is not ready to be commercially used as of yet, the Japanese automaker is beating others to the punch.
Toyota is already using the airless tires, supplied by Sumitomo Rubber Industries, on its hydrogen-powered Fine-Comfort Ride. In case you missed it, this concept car was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last week.
"Airless tires contribute to greater safety and peace of mind in transportation by freeing the driver from worries about punctures and the trouble of having to manage tire pressure.” Sumitomo wrote in an official statement, adding that other Japanese carmakers are interested in its airless tires as well.
According to Chief Engineer Takao Sato, this is the first time the brand is using airless tires on any vehicle in its fleet (or future fleet). These wheels feature individual motors in each and are comprised of a band of rubber that goes around the plastic-aluminum hub. Because of this construction, the Sumitomo tires could compensate for the weight of the motors, he said.
At this point in time, the concept tires weigh around the same as its pneumatic tire. Sato is determined, however, to reduce the weight by about 11 pounds, or 30 percent, from each tire by the year 2025. Sumitomo Rubber Industries has been testing these wheels mostly on minicars and golf carts. The company did come forth saying that other Japanese car brands are interested in these tires for EVs. Head of the Airless Tire Project, Wako Iwamura, explained that his personal target is to have a commercial product ready for the market within the next three years.
Apart from making a lighter tire, Iwamura seeks to overcome the challenge that is known as rolling resistance, basically friction. He estimates that it is somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent worse than the current pneumatic tires, which is a clear negative for those cars using every bit of their driving range from their lithium-ion batteries.
Sumitomo is not the first to dive into the airless tire arena, as Bridgestone and Michelin already have a product available for machinery and recreational vehicles. While the technology has not been tested or proven on passenger cars, the manufacturers are looking to ensure the public that they are safe to use and should be welcomed.
Iwamura says that consumers can rest assured their wallets won't ache. These airless tires should cost about the same as those filled with air. You can expect to pay the same, while possibly gaining something at that.