In the last three years, the adoption of electric vehicles has made massive strides. A key catalyst has been the acceleration of electric consumer vehicles being brought to the marketplace. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), electric vehicle sales have tripled since 2020, increasing from 4% to 14% in 2023. This percentage is only expected to continue rising and EV technology will continue to grow and advance, which is why we are now seeing increasing electric adoption across different segments. What once was high-end technology, exclusive to premium consumers, is now being incorporated into all elements of transportation and logistics.
One mobility segment in particular that has been investing heavily in electric vehicles in recent years is waste and recycling. Waste and recycling fleets seek to unlock more sustainable practices within the industry and cut down on their carbon footprint. When compared to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, EVs can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from urban waste and recycling fleets, playing a key role in a city’s air quality.
As EVs continue to grow in popularity, fleets have called on equipment manufacturers for EV compatible products. Tire manufacturers in particular have answered the call and are focused on producing sustainable products that help EVs perform at a high level and maximize a vehicle’s efficiency. Tire engineers are in turn creating new tires enhanced with innovative, environmentally friendly solutions that account for the advanced design and performance of EVs.
Reimagining Tire Construction
The rising popularity – and, in some cases, government mandates – of electric vehicles has engineers reimagining aspects of tire technology. ICE vehicles have more historically predictable wear patterns that can be accounted for during tire construction. Whether you drive a commercial truck, minivan or garbage truck, the tires available for the application were designed specifically for how the vehicle operates, helping drivers maximize the life of each tire. The adoption of electric vehicles into all segments has adjusted this thinking and reinforced the major impact sustainability will have on the future of mobility.
One of the key differences between EVs and ICE vehicles is weight, and this plays a major role in how a vehicle’s tires are manufactured. Because tires are the only part of the vehicle that touch the ground, weight also plays a significant role in the vehicle’s performance overall. For high-scrub waste fleets, durability was already a key area of focus when it came to tire design. With more fleets transitioning to electric, this becomes even more of a priority when designing tires that can handle the day-to-day grind and weight of the vehicle while still maximizing a vehicle’s charge. An example of this can be seen in Bridgestone’s R192E electric bus tire, which the company launched last year. Similar to waste fleets, urban bus fleets operate under demanding circumstances with lots of stops and starts and require durability from their tires above everything else. The R192E tire features a higher load capacity with multiple features including reinforced sidewalls and an enhanced casing to help maintain optimal tire pressure under the extra weight of an electric bus. The composition of the tire also sports a tread pattern that provides ultra-low rolling resistance to help EVs get the most miles out of each charge and is manufactured to be highly retreadable, helping fleets reduce their carbon footprint and overall cost.
Designing for the Present with the Future in Mind
Despite electric vehicles becoming more common, ICE vehicles continue to dominate transportation in the United States – at least for now. The shift to electric will move slowly and steadily as we realign current infrastructures and manufacturers develop new technology. To provide more context, in 2022 the United States accounted for only 0.4% of global electric truck sales, compared to China’s 52%. This gradual shift impacts what products need to be produced today. On the new path towards an all-electric future, the tire industry aims to manufacture sustainable products not only suitable for EVs but for ICE applications as well. With this in mind, tire makers are focusing on creating innovative solutions that can operate efficiently with both EVs and ICE vehicles.
The waste industry is an excellent example of this shift. While we are beginning to see more electric waste fleets as technology develops, a vast majority of waste vehicles are non-electric. This trajectory also applies to tire manufacturers in terms of the percentage of new products being created specifically for waste and recycling EVs. However, engineers and product developers continue to work to bring more EV-specific equipment to the marketplace, in anticipation of a growing EV market. This development includes digital solutions such as tire monitoring systems and design shifts like casings designed to support additional weight of EVs. These are both examples of developments that can benefit ICE vehicles and EVs, promoting sustainability along the way.
All tire manufacturers are currently focused on cross-industry learning and studying the impact electric vehicles have on tires. These insights being gained with each new electric application have proven invaluable and are helping shape tire technology for different segments. To revisit the example above, the electric bus industry shares many attributes as the waste sector. With each new innovation made in one industry, elements can be transferred to the other, benefitting both industries.
The Shift Toward Electric Normalcy Will Require Everyone
Electric vehicle options will continue to grow in the marketplace and become more woven into the fabric of our society. Less than five years ago, if you saw one fully electric vehicle on the road, you’d be surprised. Now, electric is becoming common place, and all types of vehicles are transitioning to this clean technology.
The waste and recycling segment is poised for a swift transition to electric but will need equipment manufacturers to help them get there. Tire makers have already started designing products to assist with this shift and will need to continue to extract cross-industry learnings to develop tires that accommodate electric and ICE vehicles simultaneously. In the end, the path that leads to 100% electric vehicles and fleets is not a straight line, and everyone will need to work together to ensure all industries can develop and use the applicable innovations.