It's a much-argued question in automotive circles: are cars really getting heavier, or just larger? Putting chassis-shaming said, the answer is yes on both counts. A lot of that's to do with electric vehicles because battery packs weigh between 500 and 1,200 pounds; the growth of SUVs is also contributing since they're typically 40 percent heavier than a smaller car and average 4,799 pounds. That's even before you make them into EVs and really chonk up the whole thing. With crossovers and SUVs now accounting for 42 percent of global car sales, tire makers like Continental are being forced to respond to the widespread weight increase.
Continental has added HL to its tire load index codes, a range that ups the load by 10 percent relative to its XL equivalent and by a quarter compared to its SL equivalent (the tire range for most medium-sized cars). The HL code will go at the front of the tire's designation on its sidewall, with XL or SL still appending it to indicate the overall size.
The clever bit is that the new HL tires, rather than just being some tractor-style additions to your regular (if enormous) car, are inflated to the same pressure and have the same dimensions as the previous range. That's no small task if you're going to make things that are also drivable in a passenger vehicle.
Project lead Dr. Stefan Habicht had this to say about the new heavy-load-bearing rubber:
“We were dealing here with tradeoffs that needed resolving at a very high level. In terms of construction, we reinforced the bead and enhanced the contour of the tire to reduce tire/road noise.
"At the same time we also optimized the pattern compound. As a result, we were able to achieve low rolling resistance, ensure precision handling and keep mileage at its customary high level.”
EVs, for instance, aren't just heavier—they also put more strain on tires with all that lovely torque, and putting the wrong ones on can make you look like a total fool. The HL tires will be rolling out for OEMs first, which for Continental includes Tesla and basically every German car manufacturer's EV range.
Continental has recently turned its hand to making extreme load-bearing off-road tires for Extreme E's Odyssey-21 electric SUV, and as battery pack sizes and power output on EVs increases, there's going to be more and more demand on tires.
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