Tuning Tires for Efficiency, on Hybrids and Electric Cars

Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max

The 2010 Toyota Prius and 2011 Chevy Volt use a Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max, while the Nissan LEAF comes equipped with the Bridgestone Ecopia EP422.

Hybrid and electric car engineers go to great efforts to maximize the efficiency of drivetrains, components and vehicle design. What’s less known is that they require tire makers to create customized tunings of tires for specific vehicles. Putting the right tire on an efficient alternative vehicle could have a whopping 10 percent effect on overall efficiency.

Beyond efficiency, tire companies are required to match specifications from automakers regarding rolling resistance, traction, handling, ride quality, and noise level. For example, the same tire provided on both the 2010 Toyota Prius and 2011 Chevy Volt are really not the same. “While the name on the sidewall says Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max for the Toyota Prius, it very well may be a very different tune on the Fuel Max used on the Chevy Volt,” said Woody Rogers, product information specialist, at Tirerack.com. And the entire engineering community is still figuring out what tire will best serve the twisting torque of electric cars, without prematurely wearing down the tire.

In an audio interview, Woody provides an overview on tire efficiency, and talks about the tires offered on the Prius, Volt and Nissan LEAF.

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  • veek

    -Great idea, but there MAY be some price involved. When our Escape hybrid was new it had the Conti “eco-tuned” tires, which were the worst tires we can remember driving. On the good side, they encouraged us to drive notably more slowly. On the not-so-good side, they felt squirrely in the dry, they hydroplaned very well, they felt so dangerous in the snow we went with our other car, and braking and off-road performance seemed poor (Consumer Reports also noted the hybrids had less braking performance). When they (hooray! finally!!) wore out around 30K, we bought Goodyear Triple-Treads (a standard tire), and were notably amazed at the difference — the eco-tires now felt downright dangerous. We have noticed 2 – 4 fewer miles per gallon, in part perhaps because we can drive faster with the new tires (although we try not to — we do watch our mileage gauge). A few years back, this site had a report that hybrids were involved in relatively more than expected accidents, and tires MAY be a factor.

    -Well, call me an anti-environmental Luddite, this is a subjective report of sample size n=1, and maybe the newer eco-tires have made great strides in becoming more user-friendly. If we see credible quantification on this we may take another chance on them, but until then we will stick with the standard tires, thank you just the same, and will try to save fuel in some other way than being a danger to us and to others.

  • sp

    I concur. We had a similar experience with the stock tires on a new 2008 Prius, e.g., squirrelly on dry roads, scary on wet roads. We also noticed a huge improvement after replacing the tires. On the other hand, when we traded up to a 2010 Prius the stock tires seemed much better. Based on our experience with the 2008 tires we had assumed we’d being getting new tires on the 2010 immediately. However, we were pleasantly surprised and ended up keeping the original tires.

  • Larry E. Hall

    Brad, a couple of questions: You point out that both the Prius and Volt use the same Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max branded tire. So, when it comes time to replace tires, how does the owner know if he/she is getting the correct OEM replacement? Is there a special numerical coding that says one is for the Prius and one is for the Volt?

    Also, am guessing that during the early production of the Volt (or any other all-new vehicle) that Goodyear hasn’t produced substantial quantities of the tire and if one has a flat that can’t be repaired, finding the correct tire could be a major problem if this happens in the boonies. What do you do, buy a tire that fits the car and then the correct tire later, leaving you with a tire that you don’t want?

  • James Clark

    My new 2010 Prius has the Bridgestone Ecopia tires. Possibly, this article is incorrect.

  • Anonymous

    That was an interesting point in the audio interview. The car makers have standard tires, but can swap out with others without much notice or reason.

  • veek

    Thanks for the encouraging update. Today, before buying a car with “eco” tires I would definitely test-drive a similar car without them, and do some research (the tirerack people have some of this data on their website). Obviously, you don’t buy a hybrid to be a racer, but tires are for more than just saving fuel, too.

  • Bob Andersen

    tire pressure is everything.. I have an 04 Prius.. original tires.. only have 19000 miles on it.. I put 42 psi in the rear and 44 psi in the front.. last two tanks of gas have averaged 50.3 mpg..

  • Stan Smart

    When I bought our first hybrid (’05 Honda Accord) there weren’t many manufacturers producing low rolling resistance tires. Now, there’s a wide variety to choose from!

    Just put a new set of Michelin’s on the ’05, after 50,000 miles, and it handles like a new(er) car!!!

    The downside is less mileage for these tires and a higher price; although there are now some exceptions to this … and more to come, I’m sure.

  • DownUnder

    Every time you change tires, you should feel like having a new car, regardless of the brand you use, because at the end of their life, tires perform very badly.
    If you don’t feel that, then your new tires must be very very wrong.

  • jackie

    Efficiency in tires is really important. You should indeed check your tires status. I’ve ridden with snow chains and changed recently for Maxigrip Tire Studs they are much more efficient.

  • tapra2

    On the other hand, when we traded up to a 2010 Prius the stock tires seemed much better.DK Tech

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  • ted

    you can’t beat Michelin energy savers on a Prius, they add 3 mpg compared to OEM ….

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