Service Manager Mike Doucette has faced customers frustrated with the lack of selection when it’s time to replace the tires on their electric vehicles.
At his Guelph, Ont., dealership, Barry Cullen Chevrolet, Chevrolet Bolt owners generally have little choice but to stick with original equipment.
A Bolt’s Michelins should be good for 40,000 to 60,000 kilometres before they need replacing, said Doucette.
“I’m going to guess that maybe 85 to 90 per cent [of customers] are putting the Michelin back on.”
Customers seeking an alternative will take their business to an aftermarket competitor, Doucette said.
As EVs rack up kilometres, and owners shop for new tires, the selection of EV-specific replacement tires hasn’t kept pace, at least in Canada and the United States. That limits what dealers can offer and often leaves owners with the option of either buying another set of original-equipment tires or tires not designed for EVs.
Tire makers are addressing the challenge in various ways, including the use of novel compounds and changes to the tire’s carcass, tread depth and sipe design.
The goal is to create products that approach the range and quietness of original-equipment tires while improving performance and tread life.
“I think this is where the market is going to,” said Ian Coke, Pirelli North America’s chief technical officer. “I think a lot of us are very interested in that.”
TRADE-OFFS: TREAD LIGHTLY
Currently, all tire design rests on a balancing act of grip, rolling resistance and tread wear, said David Reese, vice-president of Americas product development at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
“Traditionally, you pull on any one of those legs, and you may have a trade-off on one of the other legs,” he said. “There are not necessarily different trade-offs for EVs, but maybe they’re a little bit more accentuated.”
Factor in a quiet ride — necessary since tire noise is no longer masked by the sounds of an internal-combustion engine — and the balancing act becomes even trickier.
For original-equipment tires, automakers want designs that fit their brand’s mission, particularly low rolling resistance to maximize range, Coke said.
“That’s not necessarily aligned with [what] the consumer needs on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
When it comes time for replacement, EV owners might value better grip or longer tire life over the range. For commuters driving short distances and recharging every night, buying tires built for long range is even less important.
“Do you need 300 miles (500 kilometres) of range if we can give 50 per cent more mileage of [tire life]?” Coke said.
The replacement tires Michelin currently sells are well-suited to EVs, if not aimed specifically at them, said Russell Shepherd, technical communications director at Michelin North America, which operates three manufacturing sites in Nova Scotia.