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Tall and skinny tires the next big thing?

  • pirelli-c1-660.jpg

  • audi-urban-tourer.jpg

    Audi Urban Concept (Audi)

  • bmw-i3-tires-660.jpg

    BMW i3 Coupe (BMW)

The future of the tire may be found in the past.

Pirelli is predicting a move toward tall, skinny automobile wheel and tire combinations in the coming years, particularly for smaller cars, that look like a modern take on those used at the dawn of motoring.

The Italian tire company tells GoAuto that upcoming fuel economy, noise and wet weather traction requirements, driven by the European Union, are behind the development.

A century ago, slow-moving automobiles relied on wheel/tire combinations that were similar to wagon wheels to facilitate their use on roads that were still primarily unpaved and frequented by horse-drawn carriages. As paved motorways became the norm, tires became wider with thicker sidewalls to improve both grip and ride.

The new design aims to keep the same overall size footprint on the road by changing its shape to long and narrow rather than short and fat, in relation to the direction of travel.

Pirelli says 21-inch wheel diameters will be the norm by 2020, shod with tires featuring relatively deep sidewalls and narrow treads --as small as 125/60 -- that reduce rolling resistance and better channel water away from underneath. The changes should help reduce road noise, as well.

Helping this trend will be automotive industry’s new focus on reducing the weight of cars, which in turn will require smaller and smaller tire contact patches to produce the same effect.

Several lightweight concept vehicles have been show in recent years sporting this new design, including the Audi Urban Concept.

BMW’s upcoming, very forward-thinking carbon fiber i3 electric car also rides on relatively narrow tires, according to Green Car Reports, and is expected to hit the road, lightly, later this year.