As your only point of contact with the road, it's no surprise that tires are important.

Not just for performance, handling and safety, but gas mileage too--and General Motors has invested $5 million into the National Tire Research Center in Virginia, to help develop the next generation of fuel-efficient tires.

The goal is to design tires with low rolling resistance. As that implies, the less resistance a tire has as it rolls along the road, the less power (and therefore fuel) is needed to overcome it.

GM says that tires can make up as much as 7 percent difference in gas mileage simply through good design.

Tips for checking your tires - improve gas mileage and safety

Its $5 million investment has helped the Research Center to fund special equipment, which tests tires to the limit and beyond.

A special machine known as the Flat-Trac LTRe can run tires up to 200 mph to analyse how they behave at different speeds, on different surfaces and even in wet weather. It can replicate the way tires are used on the road, whether fitted to a subcompact, or a pickup truck.

Monitoring the tires with such scientific precision--"like going from a basic telescope to Hubble", the center's executive director describes it--could bring about huge leaps in tire design and construction.

'Green tires' have already improved hugely in recent years, allowing for much better grip while reducing rolling resistance.

But further development is still important, particularly on electric vehicles which could benefit the most from those extra miles on each charge.

Ultimately, better tire research will benefit everyone--reducing fuel use, and improving comfort and safety.


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