Exclusive Q&A: What role will tyres play in the EV revolution?
We sat down with Michelin tyre guru, Martin Millar, for a deep dive into the future of electric vehicles and the rubber which keeps them rolling.
With over 25 years of experience as Michelin’s Category Manager for the Northern European region, Martin has his finger firmly on the pulse of all the latest trends and developments in EV mobility. So, where does he think the electric car market is headed? And what challenges will this bring for tyre manufacturers? Keep reading to find out.
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Q. The number of battery-only electric passenger cars doubled between 2021 and 2022, do you expect this trend to continue on its current trajectory?
A. “So it's going to take an awful lot of time before everything switches to EV. But if behind your question was the thought: have the dice already been rolled? Yeah, absolutely. It's happening. It's not going to go back, as all the vehicle manufacturers have made the commitment to switch across.
Regarding the trajectory element of your question, I think the best way to look at it is by considering what has already happened in Norway. Last year they were sitting at around 80% battery electric for new vehicles, so they’ve almost reached, I wouldn’t say saturation, but they are getting to a point where the market is very mature. Therefore, they can’t grow by another 50% and the same will happen elsewhere.”
Q. Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark are among the top seven countries with highest BEV registrations as a percentage of the total passenger cars. Why are the percentages so high in these countries, and how did they develop their infrastructure so quickly to support this increase in EV drivers?
A. “It’s a bit of a carrot and stick situation in terms of how they developed it so fast. Obviously, they’ve thrown money at it too. The one I am most familiar with is Norway, where, and this is going back a good number of years, they had schemes like no purchase or import tax on EVs from 1990.
They also had no road tax from ’96 to 2021 for BEVs, and reduced charges for toll roads and ferries. Then there’s municipal parking, and I think from 2022 all vehicles bought by the government and council need to be zero emissions. So, you have all the incentives on one side, and the polluters pay policy on the other.”
Q. Tesla is dominating the European EV market with Model 3 and Y ranking as the top 2 best-selling EVs in Europe last year; why do you think they have had more success than legacy manufacturers in the electric segment?
A. “I think they have had a massive advantage in the sense that they didn’t have a legacy of internal combustion engines. From a marketing point of view, how do you sell yourself as being green when you’re still making ICE engines?
The second thing you have to understand is that it’s costing, or has cost, car companies spending billions to convert manufacturing processes. Because it's not like, ‘oh, I've just got to switch one thing off and change a little thing here’. It is completely different.
The vehicle chassis is different. The space that you have in the vehicle is different. So, if you are someone like Audi or VW, you have to go out to your components suppliers to get all these things changed. It's hugely challenging.
The second thing Tesla excelled at was being incredibly vertically integrated. In other words, they make their own batteries, large parts of the vehicle they make themselves, all the IT stuff, they even tend to do the programming in-house…”
Q. What developments need to be made specifically for EV tyres?
A. “Certainly any tyre manufacturer catering to the performance end of the EV market has to think about the additional forces under braking and acceleration on the centre of the tread. The fact you are not changing gear and that torque is higher, plays a role too.
You also have to think about handling, and this is where OE tyres are especially beneficial, because the tyre manufacturer will work with the vehicle manufacturer to optimise the tyre depending on the weight distribution – which in an EV is different from an ICE vehicle. We do tens of thousands of hours work on the configuration of that tyre for that specific vehicle.
Road noise is another consideration as there’s no internal combustion engine to mask it. To improve acoustics for EVs you can use special materials to reduce the sound of the air moving inside the tyre. And it does absorb a lot of the noise, something like 20% of it.
As always though, Michelin’s expertise comes into play when juggling the five or six different criteria we are trying to hit for a specific model.”
Q. Ultimately, many buyers are switching to EV for sustainability reasons. What is Michelin doing to match these efforts with regard to the sourcing, developing, and delivery of EV tyres?
A. “Michelin has sustainability targets, as well as a ‘people, planet and profit’ ethos. So we’re trying to be innovative, responsible, and make money. But I think the big thing that makes us stand out, is the fact that by 2050 our goal is to only make 100% sustainable tyres – currently it’s around 30%.
Now, we have to be a little bit careful we’re not accused of greenwashing. But in terms of understanding tyres, there’s a second element which is fuel efficiency. The longer tyres last and the more fuel efficient they are, it can make a massive difference to the amount of CO2 that is deposited into the atmosphere. It's not just lip service that we're paying either, we are already a leader in fuel-efficient tyres.
Going back to the materials though, in each tyre there may be 200 ingredients. That’s an awful lot of components. One example, since 2020, we've been working with Pyrowave to replace styrene so that more and more of it comes from recycled plastic packaging. It’s projects like these that will get us to 100% by 2050.”
It’s clear then, that as the wide-scale proliferation of EVs continues to gain momentum across the globe, tyre manufacturers must adapt to create products which both mirror the green credentials of the cars they are fitted to, as well as retain the characteristics drivers want and need from their vehicles.
But, as Martin points out, the transition to electric vehicles is still far from completion. So, what are the public’s biggest apprehensions towards an EV future? Join us in part two for all you need to know.