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GM to Develop More Fuel-Efficient Tires

General Motors and its research partners will begin developing more fuel-efficient tires next year at the National Tire Research Center in Halifax County, Va., the automaker says.

According to GM, tire design can help improve fuel efficiency by up to seven percent. A tire’s rolling resistance is determined by variations in tread pattern, construction, material quality and processing techniques. The lower the rolling resistance, the less fuel is needed to move the vehicle forward.

Low rolling-resistance tires can help customers save money at the gas pump, as will more efficient conventional engines and electric powertrains, GM says.

The $14 million National Tire Research Center is a partnership between the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, General Motors, and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. GM contributed $5 million to the center.

The center’s $11.2 million tire performance test equipment, called Flat-Trac LTRe (pictured), uses electric motor technology and can run a tire at up to 200 mph. It provides data on handling, ride, torque and braking capabilities on various surfaces, including wet road conditions. GM described itself as instrumental in developing the machine’s test specifications.

The Flat-Trac LTRe is capable of replicating all driving maneuvers of a passenger car or light truck on the road. GM and other automotive engineers will be able to use the data collected by the equipment to predict vehicle performance and modify tire characteristics to improve performance for low rolling resistance, better road-holding capability and other criteria.

The center’s facilities also include the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion (SoVa Motion) Laboratory, located at the Virginia International Raceway. SoVa Motion offers shock and suspension testing, virtual prototyping of vehicle components, and a range of on-vehicle sensing such as wheel force transducers.

SovaMotion will use the tire center’s test data to conduct drive and handling simulations that could help reduce time and cost of vehicle program development.

UK businesses could reduce fuel costs by up to £500 million ($800 million) per year if they fitted more fuel-efficient tires on half of their company vehicles, according to figures released earlier this month from the Energy Saving Trust.

The European Commission has proposed a labeling scheme aimed at influencing consumers to buy more energy efficient and better performing tires. The scheme is proposed to enter into effect by the end of 2012.

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