The wheels are supposed to be the way we keep cars safe.
But one company wants to change that by using a computer algorithm to determine if a wheel is a good option for a given use.
And that means some wheel makers have had to rethink their designs, says Jim O’Neill, executive vice president of the National Automotive Dealers Association.
“We are seeing a shift in the industry towards self-driving technology,” he says.
“But I think the question is, can a wheel be designed to prevent an accident?”
O’Neil says the wheel companies are starting with two key elements to help them design better wheel designs: the size of the wheel and the way the wheels are designed to be used.
For example, an 8-inch wheel could be used to make a longer wheel, and a 10-inch might be better for use in a more traditional car.
“When you start making the decision to have a wheel that’s not a standard car, the answer is ‘no,’ ” says O’Donnell.
“That’s the fundamental change in design, and it’s a really big question that we’ll have to answer.”
The problem for some wheel manufacturers is that a car with a 10 inch wheel will not have the same steering feel as a 9-inch car, says Othniel.
“It’s a different feel,” he explains.
“So we’re designing wheel for a vehicle that’s more like a bicycle.”
One company that has been making wheels for over a decade is the Italian company Seimano.
“The idea behind a wheel design is that you make it as light as possible so that it’s light enough to ride and still allow for optimal grip,” says Seimanos chief technical officer Carlo D’Alessandro.
“If you take a bike and put it on wheels, you lose the feeling of having a bike,” he adds.
“You don’t feel that the wheel is being controlled by your feet, and you don’t have the feeling that you’re controlling the wheel.”
So, for some customers, D’Ossano says the company has to change wheel designs to fit the current vehicle technology.
“There’s a new era for wheels in the future,” he insists.
“A new breed of wheel will be born.”
The new breed will be smaller, more durable, lighter and safer.
“All wheels are made of the same materials and the same kind of steel, and this is where the difference between a 10 and a 12-inch becomes apparent,” says D’Amato.
D’AMATO: “The difference between 10 and 12 inches is the width of the hub.
In the future, that will become much more important.”
But what about the steering feel?
“The steering will be much better, much lighter, much more responsive,” says Othalne.
For some customers the problem is that the steering is now so sensitive that it can feel like the wheels can move.
“For example, you might use the front brake pedal to move the wheel up or down, and the driver might feel a little bit of a ‘slop’ or something that’s coming out of the back wheel,” says Burt Gentry, director of engineering at Ford Motor Company.
“To avoid that, we’ve developed a special wheel that is designed to resist that, and that will give the driver a much better feel.”
In a similar fashion, wheel makers are looking for a new kind of wheel that can withstand some vibration.
“They’ve got a new design called the B-D wheel,” explains Othna.
“This is a very stiff wheel that won’t flex, and we’ve added some rubber on top of it to resist some vibration,” he continues.
The wheels have to be very durable to withstand such forces.
“Our goal is to have the wheel as strong as a human hand,” says Gentry.
“In fact, we’re going to put a titanium wire inside of the rim, so that when you lift the wheel, it doesn’t flex.”
Othalna says the BDS wheels are expected to be available in 2019, but the company is also working on a new type of wheel called the FAST wheel.
It will use a new steel alloy, and will have a softer inner ring to resist the vibrations of the new steel.
“What’s cool is that we have a brand new material,” says Ciro Zuccarini, chief engineer of Ford.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the future will bring.”