BMW i3's Tall Skinny Tires To Boost Efficiency (And Cut Noise)

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BMW i3 Concept live photos, 2012 L.A. Auto Show

BMW i3 Concept live photos, 2012 L.A. Auto Show

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Most people give them little thought, but tires are one of the most important components on a car.

They are, of course, your only point of contact with the road. So ultimately, tires are responsible for everything from performance, through cornering, to efficiency and noise.

Tires of the future will significantly improve the last two factors, and BMW's i3 electric car will be among the first production vehicles to adopt the new breed of tire.

While "round and black" has long been a simplified definition for tires, their design has changed significantly over the years. Most recently, the fashion is for larger diameters and a wide footprint. The latter is a significant contributor to rolling resistance and noise.

High rolling resistance is detrimental to fuel efficiency, while noise can manifest itself as everything from a constant drone at speed to unusual sounds and resonances over different surfaces.

Pirelli is one of the tire makers aiming to change this, says Go Auto. The company is developing tires both taller and narrower than current examples. By 2020, the average tire diameter is expected to grow from 16 inches to 21. At the same time, it'll become narrower.

European regulations on noise, rolling resistance and wet grip are prompting the changes, but the latest breed of electric vehicles, such as the BMW i3, will make best use of the technology to improve range and keep noise to a minimum.

The i3 has used tall, narrow tires since the early concept stage. While they look a little odd at first, particularly from any angle showing the tire's section, they should allow it to be one of the quietest vehicles on the road. And viewed in profile, it lends the i3 larger diameter wheels than you'd expect on a typical small car, improving the car's appearance.

You might think that grip would suffer--and by extension, safety--on these new tires. However, their development coincides with a new trend for cars finally getting lighter. A lighter car doesn't work its tires as hard, and doesn't require as wide a footprint for the same levels of grip. Additionally, these new tires should be more adept at cutting through standing water, without the tendency of wider rubber to hydroplane.

Not every car will head down the tall and narrow route of course, but the ones that do could prove more economical and refined than ever.

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