The catch-all advice for the average driver interested in cutting fuel consumption is to check tire pressure. A recently published report from Michelin and Volvo Trucks lends credence to this familiar suggestion. Analysts with the French tire manufacturer note that tires properly selected, inflated and aligned can cut fuel consumption by 14.5%. This report drew from the results a 621-mile road test in Sweden that featured Michelin tires and Volvo Trucks models. An intriguing component of this study is the assertion that tires contribute at least a third of the influence on a vehicle’s fuel economy.
Michelin and Volvo Trucks ran two FH trucks on a 621-circuit on the Hallered course in Sweden. These trucks operated over two week to create reliable statistics on the impact of proper tire use. Each FH 4×2 truck featured a 13-liter, 500-horsepower engine and a payload of 40 tons. Researchers used variations on tire pressure, wheel alignment and tire types produced by Michelin to assess potential fuel savings. Michelin and Volvo also simulated rain, snow and road obstructions throughout the trial to add complexity to the published results. The trucks were outfitted with sensors and data-collection systems that tracked fuel consumption as well as tire pressure.
The results of this trip were verified by the Technical Research Institute of Sweden over the two-week trial. The biggest influence on the 14.5% reduction in fuel consumption is the selection of the right tire for a particular vehicle. Michelin estimates that the right tires can improve fuel economy by 11% for the average truck. Proper alignment could cut fuel consumption by 2.5% while wheel inflation can cut fuel use by about 1% according to the report.
Consumers should view Michelin’s recent report with a mixture of skepticism and concern. Michelin certainly wants to promote the importance of tires on fuel economy in order to increase business. This formulation plays on the public’s concerns about personal finances, fuel costs and the environmental impacts of transportation. The bigger issue emerging from Michelin’s report is that the auto industry seems concerned about the fuel-efficient margins rather than more substantial technologies. Drivers should stay attuned to their tire pressure but automakers could exceed the 14.5% estimate with hybrid systems and plug-in vehicles.