How does autonomous driving impact fleet tyre replacement?

Autonomous car driving
Autonomous car driving

Back in 1960, you might have been cruising down the road in your new Holden or Ford and if a kangaroo suddenly hopped into your path, it would be down to you to slam on the brakes. Since the 1980s, however, computers have progressively been added to cars to make driving easier and safer. Nowadays, they have highly sophisticated autonomous or semi-autonomous systems to put less pressure on a drivers’ reflexes and nerves.

You may not realise it, but if you invested in new fleet vehicles in 2020, it’s likely they are what’s known as ‘Level 2 autonomous’. This means that the vehicle can control its own acceleration, deceleration and steering through an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS).

Any ANCAP five-star rated vehicle (the highest safety rating you can get) bought in 2021 will also have additional technologies to assist drivers with various aspects of their journey.

How will autonomous driving affect tyres on your fleet or novated lease vehicles?

As vehicles become increasingly autonomous, tyres are being simultaneously adapted and improved to match the computer systems on board. If an autonomous vehicle (Level 2-5) in your fleet has been designed to respond in a certain way in an emergency situation, the tyres will have been designed to complement that.

The NRMA expects the following future trends in tyres for autonomous vehicles:

  • Mandatory run-flat-tyres (RFT). These keep the vehicle driving if the tyre is punctured, which is an added safety feature.
  • Improved quietness. With the move towards electric vehicles (EVs), which don’t have an engine to mask the noise, tyres will need to run more quietly.
  • Narrower and have larger diameters to reduce rolling resistance.
  • Made from different materials to reduce carbon emissions over the course of the tyre life.

If you have electric autonomous vehicles, they have the benefit of operating at reduced costs because they have fewer moving parts and fluids to maintain, which means they can be serviced more quickly and get back on the road faster.

What this naturally leads to is more time on the tar, resulting in greater wear on the tyres, which will be seen in both fleet and novated lease vehicles.

What do autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles mean for tyre replacements?

We’ve always been advised by manufacturers that replacing tyres from the same brand and with the same specifications is essential if you want to maintain your vehicle’s performance.

While ten years ago, performance largely equated to comfort, stopping distance and handling, nowadays and looking to the future, there will be a greater emphasis on safety.

It’s important to note that not all tyres are created equal. While they may all be a similar shape, colour, and are great for children’s swings, there are huge differences between the various brands and the compounds they use. The best brands of tyres, which you’ll see manufacturers using on their new products, spend millions on research and development.

When a car manufacturer is creating a new vehicle, the tyre manufacturers must pitch their tyre designs according to a range of criteria, from price to quietness to performance when under human or computer control.

Back in the 90’s and 00’s, tyres were pretty standard and you could get away with almost any replacement tyre on your vehicle. Since the GFC hit, however, the focus has shifted to reducing operating costs. This means that many businesses have started to use cheaper options that meet the minimum legal requirements (load rating and speed), but often miss the mark when it comes to performance.

As we move more and more towards the computer taking control of the fleet vehicle and the driver admiring the scenery, buying tyres based on price alone is just not a good idea. Because the tyres on your autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles are designed to work with its computer safety features, and those tyres are the only point of contact with the road, heeding the manufacturer’s recommendation is probably a good way to reduce the risk (and liability) for your business.

How do you tell the genuine original tyre from the cheaper passable version?

In order for you to identify the Original Equipment (OE), vehicle manufactures are now using codes on tyres. At the moment, these apply mainly to European brands, but we anticipate this will be more widespread in the near future.

For example:

  • Audi uses AO (Audi Original) and RO1 (for the RS vehicles in the Audi range)
  • BMW uses a star symbol
  • Mercedes-Benz uses MO or MOE
  • Tesla used TO
  • Hyundai uses HN

We’ve come a long way since the invention of the wheel, and tyres are no longer just a functional aspect of a vehicle, but an important and essential safety enhancer designed specifically to work with the semi-autonomous vehicles’ capabilities.

We recommend sticking to OE tyres for your semi-autonomous fleet, which may cost you a bit more at the time but could save you a great deal in liabilities and, more importantly, keep your drivers safer on the road. 

While your vintage jalopy in the garage may not have an onboard computer, it might be worth seeing if your dealer can throw in some safer tyres for her too. 

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