The auto industry is putting improved tires onto cars these days, but consumers aren't so sure they like the results.
It is a rare disconnect between industry ingenuity and consumer stubbornness -- and neither the automakers nor their tire suppliers can do much to correct it at the moment.
Blame it on CAFE.
Car companies have been pushing tiremakers for decades to create more fuel-efficient tires that generate less energy-eating road friction. And now that the auto industry is under federal mandate to meet significantly stiffer corporate average fuel economy requirements, the tiremakers are delivering exactly what the car companies want.
But the resulting "low-rolling-resistance" tires that are now proliferating on new models from Ford, Nissan, BMW, Subaru, Kia and other companies can leave drivers unimpressed. Critics say the more fuel-efficient tires can lack road grip -- something even their manufacturers concede. And some customers are underwhelmed by the very thing that the tires are promising -- better fuel economy results.
Reviewing the newly released Kia Soul EV in November on Green Car Reports, auto writer Bengt Halvorson praised the car -- but added, "The only thing it doesn't have is much grip; in the tightest hairpin corners you'll notice that the low-rolling-resistance tires simply won't let you enjoy that to its fullest."
The secret sauce for the tire concept is a reduced contact area with the road. Tiremakers are doing that through new tread patterns and harder sidewalls. But reduced road contact has implications for braking on a wet road or taking off at a green light -- especially compared to the wide, performance tires of the recent past.