Thanks to the Firestone recall four years ago, tyre pressure monitoring systems have become a big safety issue. Matthew Beecham reports.

America's forthcoming TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act will take the responsibility for maintaining correct tyre pressure away from the consumer and onto the manufacturer. The TREAD Act requires that 50% of model year 2006 light vehicles, 90% of model year 2007 light vehicles and all light vehicles manufactured after 2007 in the US to be equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS). NHTSA's latest proposal - presented on 15th September 2004 - requires manufacturers to install a four-tyre TPMS that is capable of detecting when a tyre is 'more than 25% under-inflated' and warn the driver.

There are basically two technologies used to measure tyre pressure: direct and indirect.

  • Direct tyre monitoring systems are based on a dedicated sensor/transmitter located within the cavity of the tyre, typically mounted on the wheel. The transmitter monitors and measures contained air pressure and temperature within each tyre and transmits this information to a receiver located on the car's instrument panel.
  • Indirect systems typically work with the vehicle's anti-lock brake system. Most indirect tyre monitoring systems compare each wheel's rotational speed with the rotational speed of other wheels. If one tyre becomes significantly under-inflated while the others remain at proper pressure, the indirect system eventually detects the problem because that wheel's rotational speed is on average slightly higher than that of other wheels. In other words, a tyre losing air pressure shrinks in diameter and rotates faster. A difference in speeds between wheels can trigger a warning.

Although indirect systems are expected to continue to improve and regarded to be the least expensive solution to monitoring tyre pressure for vehicles already equipped with anti-lock braking systems, the market is favouring the direct approach.

By installing tyre monitoring systems, additional benefits include increased fuel economy, longer tyre wear, fewer crashes due to tyre blowouts, immobilised vehicles or poor vehicle handling from pressure loss and hydroplaning. It also means that motorists can instantly check their tyre pressure without touching the greasy tyre valve. Tyre pressure monitoring is also essential for the so-called run-flat systems, enabling the driver to drive a short distance after the tyre has deflated.

The main competitors in the direct tyre pressure monitoring systems arena include SmarTire, Schrader, Beru, TRW, Johnson Controls, Continental and SiemensVDO.

The relatively small number of market participants facing tremendous growth prospects suggests that there are some high barriers preventing others from entering the TPMS arena. The fact that to develop a TPMS costs millions to develop over many years is one of the main drawbacks to those looking to enter the market. For example, SmarTire has invested nearly $60 million over the past 16 years in developing its own TPMS technology.

  • Beru's customers include all the German vehicle makers. Its TPMS products currently appear on the Mercedes-Benz S-, C- and E-class, and Audi A4, A6 and A8, amongst others. Beru has acquired Doduco and its tyre monitoring technology. Beru also has a tie-up with Lear. Beru is using the electronics in Lear's RKES (remote keyless entry system) to receive the information transmitted from its tyre pressure sensors. The partnership makes sense from a technological standpoint because both RKES and tyre pressure monitoring systems currently operate on radio-frequency signals. The partnership also broadens Beru's access to the US market for tyre pressure monitoring systems. The partners have already won contracts to supply second generation tyre pressure monitoring systems to Ford, Hyundai and Kia. The technology will be installed in a number of Ford platforms such as the Explorer, Aviator, Escape and Thunderbird as of 2005. In addition, all Hyundai platforms are due to be supplied with the system from 2005, with its first installation in the new Hyundai Sonata.
  • Japan's Pacific Industrial Co has developed a system that monitors the air pressure in tyres constantly and precisely. The system is fitted with sensors within the tyre valve, which measures tyre pressure and temperature and then conveys the information by using weak radio waves to the computer system within the automobile. Pacific Industrial is already supplying this system to Toyota Motor Corp's luxury sports cars that are sold in the US and Japan. Pacific Industrial's tyre monitoring system is similar to the approach taken by Beru with additional antennas and wiring harnesses.
  • Schrader Electronics claims to be the world's largest producer of tyre valves and direct tyre pressure measurement equipment. The company's products are being sold to the OEMs and through the aftermarket. In the aftermarket, Schrader has joined forces with Johnson Controls in the launch of their PSI-branded product.
  • Siemens and Goodyear have collaborated on the development of a second generation of tyre pressure control systems which warn drivers when low tyre pressure is increasing fuel consumption and tyre wear, dubbed Tire IQ. They also provide information on the mileage of the tyre on request. The main advantage of the new sensors is that they operate with an indirect power supply and allow electronic identification of the tyres. Siemens and Goodyear plan to launch an application in 2006.
  • SmarTire develops and produces direct tyre pressure monitoring systems for the OE and aftermarket mainly for passenger car, light truck and motorcycle applications.  It also produces systems for recreational vehicles, commercial and industrial applications.
  • TRW is also supplying some direct TPMS in Europe. TRW Automotive Electronics is leveraging its expertise in radio frequency technology in a new relationship with Michelin to jointly develop tyre pressure monitoring systems for Michelin tyres in OE applications. EnTire Solutions, a 50/50 joint venture company formed by Michelin and TRW Automotive, has secured contracts with Honda and Fiat for its direct tyre pressure monitoring systems. Launched at the 2003 Tokyo motor show the company supplies systems for Honda's 2004 Acura MDX SUV and will also supply Fiat for a planned range of new models. The technology uses a battery-powered sensor mounted on the valve stem to send a radio signal to a dashboard receiver, warning of low pressure. Entire also offers tools, parts and services to carmakers and the aftermarket. EnTire is already developing a more advanced system which will not only detect low pressure but re-inflate the tyres. Tyre pressures will also be adjustable by the driver to modify comfort and handling characteristics.

Other smaller players in this blossoming direct tyre monitoring market include IQ-Mobil Electronics, Algonquin Scientific, Transense Technologies and NIRA Dynamics.

NIRA Dynamics say that they have just secured their first contract with a major OEM with the expectation that the first vehicles on the market with its system will appear by 2006. Dr Urban Forssell, president and CEO of NIRA Dynamics AB, said: "[Our] TPI (tyre pressure indicator) is capable of detecting and isolating pressure drops corresponding to 25% under-inflation in one, two, three or four tyres. Since this is rather different compared to the indirect TPMSs on the market, we call TPI a second generation indirect TPMS. TPI is also a strong competitor to direct TPMSs in terms of functionality and value for the customer and since it is a software based solution it is also very cost effective compared to this type of system."

Although there are no regulations for tyre pressure monitoring currently in force in Europe, some manufacturers predict we should expect to see fitment rates of around 20% in new cars in Europe by 2006. Industry opinion is divided regarding whether or not we shall see the European Commission introduce legislation requiring TPMS fitment, following the US example. Dr Urban Forssell, president and CEO of NIRA Dynamics AB, said. "In Europe, I think this development will be driven by the customer requirements and by the industry itself." A US-based spokesman for SmarTire told just-auto: "I believe the European community is watching the US market very closely in this regard. However, the European market has a number of challenges in terms of introducing sweeping legislation as in the US. We have found, however, that many European manufacturers are not waiting for legislation to introduce TPMS on their vehicles. [They see it] as a very important safety feature which can set their vehicles apart from the competition. On the commercial trucking side, TPMS offers an excellent return on investment to the truck or fleet operator, and therefore safety legislation will not be the driving force in this market." A spokesman for EnTire said: "European legislation on tyre pressure monitoring will be likely after the implementation and initial feedback of the TREAD Act in North America."

The tyre industry is on the cusp of a major new era, thanks to the embedding of microchips in the tyre and to the wider acceptance of run-flat technology. First applications are already obvious in tyre-pressure warning systems, but the future lies in variable pressure tyre systems which will suit tyre pressure to the type of terrain, speed and manner of driving. Eventually the 'active tyre' will be able to play its part in the fully integrated and electronically controlled chassis system.

Expert Analysis

Global market review of tyre pressure monitoring systems - forecasts to 2010

In this second edition reviewing the global OE tyre pressure monitoring systems market, we extend the analysis of the market by region.

Chapter two identifies the main players in the OE market, and their market shares in Europe, North America and Japan. Our market volume and value forecasts in this study extend to 2010, determining positions of the key players in the three largest markets. Chapter three provides a roundup of recent innovations and the forces driving those technical advances. Chapter four provides profiles of the major tyre pressure monitoring system manufacturers, namely Beru, Schrader Electronics, SmarTire and TRW. Although not profiled separately here, Siemens VDO is getting set to capture a bigger slice of the European TPMS market.

To find out more about this report, download your sample or to order your copy, please follow this link.