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Goodyear joins plastics program

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has joined an automotive tire development program that aims to find a plastic replacement for rubber tires.

Commercial production is years away, but research has pushed forward the potential for plastic-based tires, said Goodyear spokesman Dave Russ.

The tire maker signed an agreement with Amerityre Corp. of Boulder City, Nev.

"Amerityre has developed what early tests show may be a viable compound for production of these tires," said Joe Gingo, senior vice president for technology and global products for Goodyear.

Polyurethane tires would be easier and faster to produce, reducing capital investment costs, Gingo said. The companies did not release details on the proposal.

Forming the polyurethane system has been a mission for the tire industry for years, Russ said. It will not be easy, though. Tire makers poured research dollars into polyurethane from the 1950s to 1970s but could not come up with anything that matched conventional systems for traction, long life or performance.

"The most important thing, is that we are going to get to - or exceed - the safety and performance levels that we're at today, or we're not going to do it," he said.

Further studies, though, could lead to a tire that not only meets existing standards, but improves tread life, uniformity of tire wear and decreases rolling resistance, which would improve gas mileage.

But bankruptcy courts are filled with files from failed companies that have attempted to bring a polyurethane tire to the market, though. So far, the promise typically outweighed sales for tires for such products as bicycles, wheelchairs and lawn equipment.

Amerityre has posted more than $12 million in losses since its founding in 1995, according to paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It posted a net loss of $2.4 million for the nine months that ended March 31, when it posted a total of $85,775 in sales.

You can reach Rhoda Miel at rmiel@crain.com

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