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Pirelli rises to electric, autonomous challenges

Smart rubber: Several Lamborghini models can be fitted with Trofeo R tyres that can relay their current pressure and temperature to the driver, previewing Pirelli technology that will eventually make its way into autonomous vehicles.

Early electric, autonomous vehicle products on market but Pirelli has more work to do

13 Nov 2019

PIRELLI Tyre is busy developing products for electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs), early examples of which are now available as the automotive industry’s latest period of significant change kicks into high gear.


Speaking to journalists last week in Melbourne, Pirelli Tyre CCO of north-east Asia and Pacific Dimitrios Papadakos said that EVs are “the present” and “not the future” as “30 to 40 per cent” of the tyre market’s current projects relate to low- or zero-emissions vehicles.


“Three, four years ago, we were at just three, four per cent,” he said. “(EVs) are coming very fast, and we have many new car brands that are coming (out with them) that we didn’t know (about) until (recently).”


As reported, Pirelli has a range of ‘marked tyres’ that are tailor-made for specific models, taking into account the unique requirements and preferences of each brand. In the prestige segment alone, more than 700 are currently available.


For marked tyres, the entire development process takes up to three years, meaning Pirelli is already working on projects for models – including numerous EVs – due for release up to the end of 2022.


Mr Papadakos therefore expressed his confidence that Pirelli will be able to continue its dominance of the prestige segment (see separate story) into the future with EVs.


“In electric cars in the prestige level, we’ll always be there,” he said.


“Probably, in the near future, you’re going to see prestige brands go electric. We know that some famous brands are still working on that (until) they’re ready to launch a new model.

Pirelli is working on that.


“Also, on electric, we’re very advanced because the tyre is completely different; the load on the car is very big so we need to have tyres with extra load (capacity).


“We need to work a lot on acoustics, the comfort. The noise of the car, at the end of the day, is only the tyre, nothing else, so we need to work on that.


“As you know, the most difficult thing is to have a very silent tyre with high grip. This is the big challenge because normally you are reducing the rolling resistance not to have noise, but you don’t have any more grip, so here you need good technology.


“And now we are ready with a new tyre for electric cars. We have it in our range.”


Pirelli Tyres Australia managing director Pierre-Olivier Chevalier confirmed that Porsche’s recently revealed Taycan is the first production EV to receive this aptly named P Zero Elect tyre as an OE fitment, although it was Jaguar’s I-Pace that debuted the rubber at the Geneva motor show in March this year.


“We have also been a very long partner of Tesla,” he added. “We are producing today some specific product with the Tesla marking on the tyres, so we have partnered for a couple of years with this new segment of the market.”


Despite the industry push towards electrification, Mr Papadakos said that he believes Pirelli will “always have the (traditional) P Zero” in its line-up alongside “a high mix (of tyres) for electric cars”.


Meanwhile, Mr Papadakos said that AVs present a different type of challenge for Pirelli, noting that they require “intelligent tyres … because if the car is driving, it will need the tyre to transmit some data to the car”.


“Here it’s a different discussion, a different type of tyres (to EVs),” he said. “We’ve been working on for many years to develop the clever tyre that can communicate.


“This is another segment that is very challenging. We’re working on that. We are very advanced. We are ready. We have some tyres like Trofeo (R) that have this technology inside.”


The track-focused Trofeo R tyres in question are capable of communicating their pressure and temperature to a specific electronic control unit that when installed in a vehicle, can send this data to a smartphone application that presents it to owners. Pirelli calls this suite Track Adrenaline.


Asked if tyre-makers need to work with wheel manufacturers to develop rubber for AVs that require even more data to be relayed in order to operate safely, Mr Papadakos said the high level of electronics involved in self-driving mean that collaboration is necessary.


“It’s a combination between car manufacturers, wheel producers and tyres, so it’s not just one to one, (we need to partner together),” he said.

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