FocusAdvanced rubbers to dominate auto market within 5-10 years

12 September 2012 15:09  [Source: ICIS news]

By Will Beacham

LONDON (ICIS)--An increased focus on tyre performance by consumers and regulators mean that high performance materials will be used in half of all auto tyres within the next 5-10 years, according to Germany-based producer LANXESS and consultants Frost & Sullivan.

Increased environmental awareness, the high cost of rubber feedstocks, and new labelling regulation launching in Europe are driving fundamental changes in auto rubber markets.

The labelling regulations, launching in the EU on 1 November 2012, and being planned in other regions, may drive this process forward by further raising consumer awareness. These will classify tyres according to their impact on fuel consumption, wet-weather performance and noise. This is likely to make them more discerning when making purchasing decisions, if a clear return on investment can be demonstrated.

Christoph Kalla, head of marketing and R&D at the Performance Butadiene Rubbers business unit of LANXESS, argues that the era of cheap general-purpose tyres is already drawing to a close because feedstock price inflation has been so great. Jumps in the producer price index for rubber happened for specific reasons, such as the 1970s oil crisis, and they will never go away, he says.

“The cost will not come down and this means that tyres have already become significantly more expensive. When you look at the impact of the total cost of tyres from oil-related feedstocks it is much greater than the additional costs of using high performance materials. With labelling initiatives, which make performance transparent, it is reasonable to assume that high-performance tyres will take over. There is no case for making general-purpose tyres if you can make high-performance ones with an improved performance and returns to the customer.”

Kalla estimates that by 2015 the high-performance segment will grow by 77% globally and should make up 50% of all tyres. “The limiting factor is not so much demand but supply. For these tyres to take over you need suitable capacities for high-performance rubbers – that will be the limiting factor. The business model cannot be to use scarce, expensive feedstocks to make cheap tyres.”

Frost & Sullivan, meanwhile, highlights a Michelin study which suggests 10% of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) tyres in 2010 were low rolling resistance and this will increase to 48% by 2020. These will be based on the use of styrene butadiene rubber (S-SBR) and silica instead of carbon black.

The increased use of products such as S-SBR and neodynium-based performance butadiene rubber (Nd-PBR) in manufacture is being spearheaded by companies like LANXESS which are constructing new production capacities.

S-SBR is mainly used in the tread compound of “Green Tyres”, where it helps to reduce rolling resistance and improve grip on wet roads. Nd-PBR is used in the treads and sidewalls of “Green Tyres”. It helps reduce rolling resistance and increase fuel efficiency. Nd-PBR is highly resistant to abrasion and plays a significant role in making tyres safer and more durable, according to LANXESS.

The company highlights studies which show that 20-30% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption and 24% of road vehicle’s CO2 emissions are related to tyres. They show that “Green Tyres” can reduce fuel consumption by 5-7% and have the quickest cost amortisation rate in comparison to other fuel-saving technologies in cars.

LANXESS has launched a fuel-saving app plus a competition, together with ICIS, to win an iPad. Visit

By: Will Beacham
+44 20 8652 3214

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