21/07/2010: Are run-flat tyres the way ahead?
Surprisingly, run-flat tyres have been with us for quite a while now. Indeed, the first car to be equipped with this apparently desirable technology appeared as long ago as 2000. At the time many motoring pundits were making predictions about the future of run-flat tyres and most expected that by 2010 almost 80% of new cars would be fitted with these then revolutionary products as standard. In fact the current usage figure is estimated to be only about 1% which is considerably less than was envisaged and you have to ask why run-flat tyres have proved to be such an apparent flop both with vehicle manufacturers and the public at large.
A number of possible explanations for this lack of interest in run-flat tyres have been suggested, including perceived lack of ride comfort, doubts about handling and braking, concerns over tyre wear and uncertainty about spare tyres or re-inflation systems. However, in the opinion of many tyre industry commentators, the big problem for run-flat tyres appears to be cost. Nevertheless it’s a fact that even though BMW for example equips a large proportion of its premium vehicles with run-flat tyres, they recognize that cost prevents them from offering these as standard fitment upon their cheapest models.
What it all seems to come down to for the average motorist is whether the extra cost of run-flat tyres is worth the additional benefits that are on offer. This is made more difficult by the fact that there are a large number of possibilities to take into consideration when comparing run-flat tyres to standard tyres including mileage, boot space and handling. For example run-flat tyres use chemical sealants whilst standard tyres need either a full size spare or a space-saver mini spare. However, these need to be changed which not every motorist will want to do, whereas run-flat tyres can be repaired by the use of sealants before continuing the journey.
Yet whilst run-flat tyres may become the norm in the luxury car market, many questions still surround their fitting on mass-market cars. Some models may need storage for a spare wheel and jack for example, whilst others may need compatibility between run-flat tyres and standard wheels. Another problem is that there seems to be a compromise between ride quality and run flat distance. Cost is still the limiting factor that prevents run-flat tyres becoming the norm though, and with prices typically 20% higher than normal tyres, only volume growth driven by more manufacturers fitting them as original equipment will bring this down.