At first glance, tyres appear to be one of those mundane everyday products that we take for granted. They exist, but we spend little time thinking about them. And why should we, since they do their job full of compressed air when we go cycling or travel from A to B and on to C comfortably cocooned in our car. If at all, we only start thinking about the high-tech combination of rubber and metal when we get a puncture, which always happens at the most inconvenient time.
Imagine, however, what the modern mobile world would be like without this everyday product that we consider so mundane: how would we get to work or go on holiday with the entire family by car, how would we reach an important business meeting in New York without hopping onto a jet to cross the Atlantic or how would we transport all our shopping home quickly from the supermarket. The world would look different if the tyre had not been invented, we would be condemned to being rather immobile ...
Statistically speaking, German cars need a new set of summer tyres every 44,100 kilometres or every three-and-a-half years. Since they are driven less, winter tyres last a few months longer. The trade sold more than 36 million new car tyres in 2010. That makes about eight million trips to the garage on the basis of four tyres per car. Which means that some eight million car owners have to decide what new tyres they want on the wheels of their cars every year. Another reason to take a closer look at what tyres really are.
The tyres we are familiar with nowadays are genuine high-tech products that have to carry out different functions. They consist of many different layers and are not moulded from a single piece of rubber, as many people perhaps think. The primary purpose of tyres is certainly to facilitate movement. Another major aspect should never be forgotten, however: tyres are an essential safety component of vehicles.
To put it briefly, tyre development has been a long process, with plenty of mistakes, expensive aberrations and costly lessons (tyre history at a glance) Several generations of tyre engineers have put sweat, effort and no end of brainpower into the development of tyres, from the initial inflated rubber sausages to the modern-day high-tech products – over a period of more than 100 years.
It is inconceivable that a high-tech product could have resulted from this long development process in the end without the research carried out into the rubber raw material. There are no tyres without rubber.
And what will the future of tyres be? Will we still need them to get us to our destination safely in 50 years too? It is highly likely that roads will continue to account for a large proportion of transport.
As far as the more distant future is concerned, speculation is allowed: will the pneumatic tyre be superfluous and be replaced by a spring-loaded rim with a rubber surface? Will electronic control systems turn the requirements on tyres upside down? Will there be some kind of rail system? Will self-vulcanising rubber be coming on the market?
One thing is at any rate certain: we will not be able to do without a highly elastic material with optimum traction that is a stable, resistant and safe solution for many different requirements and assignments.