Tires, steel and the power grid: how electric vehicles will change the business of Goodyear, Cleveland-Cliffs and FirstEnergy

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Electric vehicles are coming, and automakers aren’t the only ones adapting.

Cleveland-Cliffs will sell new types of steel, and more. Goodyear has already released specific EV tires. And FirstEnergy, along with its subsidiaries, including Ohio Edison and Illuminating Co., must ensure the power grid is ready to charge them all.

But electric vehicles are not around the corner. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, less than 1% of the transportation sector relied on electricity in 2020. Internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, often referred to as ICE vehicles, will still dominate the roads for the foreseeable future. .

A future with electric vehicles, whenever that future presents itself, will change things for several businesses in northeast Ohio. And they are already looking ahead.

How Electric Vehicles Are Driving the Evolution of Goodyear Tires

Electric vehicles, like their gas-powered counterparts, will of course run on tires. But these tires will need to be improved in many ways, said David Reese, vice president of product development at Goodyear.

“The pace has definitely picked up in recent years, but these are things we’ve been working on for at least a decade,” Reese said.

Some changes are intuitive. The average electric vehicle is heavier than a traditional vehicle, so the tires have to support heavier loads.

Electric motors, known for their rapid acceleration, also produce a lot of torque, so they need more durable treads.

Other changes are more nuanced, such as reducing a tire’s rolling resistance, which is the friction between the tires and the road that a vehicle must overcome to move. With less rolling resistance, a vehicle can achieve better fuel economy whether that vehicle uses gas or electric.

Range has been a big priority for EV makers, Reese said.

A less obvious change: how do the tires sound? An internal combustion engine is noisy and masks the sounds of a tire. But an electric vehicle is much quieter, so drivers are more likely to notice tire noise.

Reese said Goodyear developed SoundComfort technology, tires with built-in foam to reduce the noise they make.

Another change, more focused on autonomous vehicles, concerns non-pneumatic tires. These tires do not contain air and are less prone to punctures. That becomes a bigger goal in some applications, like autonomous robots making deliveries, Reese said.

Many of these changes were already front and center at Goodyear. But Reese said electric vehicles are accelerating the evolution of tires.

Many electric vehicle manufacturers are choosing to put Goodyear tires on their vehicles, he said. The company launched the ElectricDrive GT, its first replacement tires for electric vehicles, in December.

“OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are the ones that help push the industry,” Reese said. “We are thrilled to be such an important part of this new vehicle architecture.”

How will FirstEnergy coordinate charging and get electric vehicles on the grid?

Imagine if every house in the neighborhood had a clothes dryer at a time. If enough drivers choose electric vehicles over gas-powered vehicles, this reliance on the electric grid could become a reality.

That’s the future FirstEnergy is preparing for and why it’s offering pilot programs to charge electric vehicles, said Camilo Serna, the company’s vice president of rates and regulatory affairs.

It is far, however. A US Department of Energy study said about 25% of vehicles in Ohio would need to be electric to impact the distribution system. In 2020, EVs accounted for 1% of vehicles in the state.

Serna said the country could reach that level in the 2030s, but it’s hard to predict how government incentives and new vehicles will change that pace.

“We have to plan for our future where we have a lot of customers with electric vehicles,” Serna said.

Part of this planning is a future pilot program where drivers will use smart chargers that FirstEnergy can connect to. This would give data to FirstEnergy and also allow the company to delay and schedule billing.

For example, many people will plug in chargers when they get home from work around 7 p.m. FirstEnergy may delay some of the chargers, scheduling some to start at 9 p.m., others at 11 p.m.

Staggering chargers would reduce peak demand and get more power through the grid with fewer upgrades, Serna explained.

“What we want to do is add all that load with as little investment as necessary,” Serna said.

This could be great for customers, as electric vehicles have the potential to drive down electricity rates, Serna said.

Tariffs are calculated based on volume over cost, or the amount of energy used divided by the cost of operating the network. If EVs use a lot more electricity and FirstEnergy doesn’t have to spend a lot of money on grid upgrades, Serna said that could help lower tariffs.

Serna said utilities may upgrade the system in the future, installing new transformers or power lines, but the grid is mostly EV-ready. Utilities made major upgrades in the 1960s and 1970s when air conditioners became common.

FirstEnergy also offers pilot programs focused on battery storage so superchargers can tap into the grid during off-peak hours. It also looks at fleets, like a parking lot full of delivery vehicles, and how it can handle those loads.

Electric vehicles will need more steel and specialist materials from Cleveland-Cliffs

Cleveland-Cliffs and the automakers are tied at the hip, said Celso Goncalves, the company’s chief financial officer. And they see the shift to electric vehicles as a positive.

“Not only do you need steel for the vehicles of the future, but you need steel to build the infrastructure for those vehicles in the future,” Goncalves said.

Cliffs is the largest steel supplier to every automaker in North America, and the shift to electric vehicles will drive increased demand for steel. Goncalves said the average for electric vehicles is 1.1 tonnes, compared to 1 tonne on average for internal combustion vehicles.

For more than a decade, Goncalves said automakers have tried to make vehicles lighter. Due to heavier EV batteries, this trend will reverse a bit to handle larger loads.

But the types of steel will also change, Goncalves explained. An example is non-oriented electrical steel, a specialized material needed for electric motors. He says Cliffs is currently the only steelmaker in North America to supply this steel for vehicles.

Steel is more sophisticated than people think, Goncalves said. The Cleveland-Cliff Research Center works with automakers through to the design of their vehicles, and the steel used by each vehicle may be different.

“People tend to think of steel as a commodity,” Goncalves said. But that’s not right. “These are very precise specifications that every automaker and every car demands.”

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