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Pirelli, Goodyear Look to Gain Grip With Smart Tires
Source:China National Tire&Rubber Corporation China National Tire & Rubber Co.,Ltd. Date: 2017-03-09

MILAN--Tire makers are reinventing the wheel as they try to squeeze more profit out of a product many drivers don't give a second thought.

At the Geneva Motor Show this week, Italian tire company Pirelli SpA presented its connesso tire that sends data--including pressure, wear and temperature--to a smartphone app via the cloud. Pirelli plans to follow the connesso, which will be available in a few months, with a more advanced version that sends data straight to a car's dashboard.

Pirelli's smart tire echoes the radio-frequency technology that French manufacturer Michelin has offered in trucks for the last few years. But the connesso is the latest attempt to jazz up seemingly mundane car parts to meet today's demands of connectivity and tomorrow's move toward autonomous driving and electrification. Manufacturers now offer rearview mirrors that provide the driver with a panoramic view behind the car, seats with biometrics scanners, and baby seats that alert the driver if a latch is loose.

Tire manufacturers--having long sought to add new features to their products to stave off competition--sense fresh opportunities in the next wave of car technology. For example, autonomous driving is expected to lead to an increase in car sharing and more intensive use of vehicles, which in turn will mean key parts like tires are changed more often.

"When developing the tire of the future we have to think about what mobility will look like," said Carlos Cipollitti, Goodyear's vice president for product development in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "We can't just consider the tires." For instance, car manufacturers are increasingly requesting quieter tires, an important feature for electric vehicles whose motor is almost silent.

On Tuesday, Goodyear presented its Eagle 360 Urban, a concept tire designed for an imagined future when cars drive themselves and can move sideways to maneuver into tight parking places and change lanes at right angles. The tire can communicate with other vehicles as well as traffic infrastructure and is covered in a material that expands and contracts depending on driving conditions. Goodyear has no plans to commercialize the spherical tire.

But challenges remain. Tire makers still have to prove the new tires are worth the extra cost, said David Shaw, chief executive of consultancy Tire Industry Research.

Indeed, Pirelli hasn't announced the price of the connesso--which initially will be targeted at owners of Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and other superpremium cars--though it is expected to sell at a significant premium to the company's existing higher-end offerings.

Pirelli is also negotiating with car manufacturers to add the tires as an option on new vehicles. The firm may be encouraged by the fact that some high-end products have quickly made the jump from premium-only to the wider market once manufacturers and consumers decided they offered increased safety or better service at a reasonable cost. Anti-lock brakes, for example, were standard on most vehicles within about two decades of their introduction, said Mr. Shaw.

But manufacturers must overcome privacy and data ownership concerns as well. It is unclear whether data sent to the cloud and relayed to the tire owner's phone belongs to that person, the tire maker or the car manufacturer. And even newer technology could slow the demand for the juiced-up tires. For instance, mapping apps that provide crowdsourced information on road conditions may supersede data provided by the tires, said Mr. Shaw.(From Dow Jones Institutional News)

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