Having become synonymous with runflat tire development, Rudi Hein picked up the TTI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019
This year’s Tire Technology International Lifetime Achievement Award had a popular recipient. Both before and after the awards ceremony, Hans-Rudolf Hein was surrounded by friends and contemporaries, keen to congratulate him, reminisce or simply catch up. Hein – Rudi to almost everyone he meets – has been a fixture of the tire industry for decades, with a long and distinguished career that has seen his name become synonymous with runflat technology.
He almost became a doctor – as a young man, he was torn between engineering and medicine, but opted for the former. Hein studied mechanical and automotive engineering at Aachen and Munich TU, and had planned to undertake a doctorate before a change in professor at Munich led to him instead joining the workforce the day after he turned 25 years old. Working for BMW as a test engineer for chassis and suspension development, Hein was interested in all aspects of vehicle development, but found himself in a department with a strong focus on tires and rims. By 1983, seven years after he joined the car maker, he was group leader for objective measurements of tires and wheels on test rigs.
That same year, he left BMW and set up his own engineering office, working primarily with BMW for seven years before rejoining the OEM in 1990 as technical manager for chassis testing, tires, wheels and accessories. With a greater focus on predevelopment (something that chimed with Hein’s love of pushing boundaries and coming up with new solutions), he recalls a visit from a senior BMW executive.
“He came to visit us in the chassis development team,” Hein says. “He gave a very long presentation, and at the end he told us that the fifth wheel was out – that he didn’t want to have them at BMW anymore, that we could use this space, and those kilograms, for better things. That was the ignition, the start of the runflat project – although at that moment we didn’t know that was what it would be.”
Hein and the rest of the team considered a number of existing approaches – the Total Mobility Tyre (later Denevo), which would evolve into the TD/Denloc; and the PAX system, which would have meant developing a new format for wheel rims – before settling on self-supporting runflat technology as the best solution.
Hein threw himself into his work. He traveled the world, put in long hours, and reveled in a project that excited him so much that any obstacles – be they related to the technology in the runflats, or the availability of the finished tires – didn’t faze him in the slightest.
In 2008, Hein left BMW, 32 years after he first joined the auto maker. It was a decision that he recalls with mixed emotions: “The development was done. We were in series production for a lot of models – nearly all of them, in fact. And throughout my life, I have always wanted to do things that are new. When runflats were in series production, everybody knew how the technology worked – the development was no longer a problem. So in that sense, it was easy to leave.”
In 2009, Hein joined Bridgestone Europe as executive advisor for standards and regulations.
“I received an offer from Bridgestone,” he says. “I saw an opportunity to spend a few years learning from the perspective of the tire maker. I had such good contacts with Bridgestone in Japan from our runflat work – they helped me a lot to introduce those tires from Europe later on – that, for me, it was a simple decision.”
In 2017, Hein decided to retire. In a career that has spanned five decades, he also served as chairman of the VDA’s Tyre-Wheel Working Group, the ACEA working group for tires and rims, and the OICA’s tires and rims department. But runflats will always be a key part of his professional reputation.
“That was my baby,” he admits. “Runflats weren’t the only thing I was interested in, but it has been a big part of my career. If you compare the technology with car engine development, it’s like when Tesla broke through. How long will it remain that way? We will have to see. When a new, better tire technology comes along, we will see what happens.”