General Motors is teaming up with independent researchers in an effort to develop tire technology that will increase vehicle fuel economy.

The work will get under way in January at the National Tire Research Center in Halifax County, VA, which has drawn a $5 million contribution from the auto maker to help pay for its state-of-the-art tire testing machinery.

GM says optimized tire design can increase vehicle mileage up to 7%, with tread pattern, construction, material quality and processing techniques all contributing to a tire’s fuel-economy-robbing rolling resistance.

The work we’ll undertake at the National Tire Research Center will have a big impact on how quickly next-generation tire technologies will be developed and the accuracy of their design and engineering,” says Ken Morris, GM’s executive director-global vehicle performance and safety, and proving grounds and test labs.

The NTRC officially opened last month. Its $11.2 million, electrically operated tire-performance test equipment, dubbed Flat-Trac LTRe, can run a tire at up to 200 mph (321 km/h) and generate data on handling, ride, torque and braking capability on a variety of road surfaces and conditions.

The machinery can test for both car and light-truck applications and will be used to determine ways to improve tire design for better low-rolling resistance and road-holding capability, GM says.

“This facility’s test equipment is like going from a basic telescope to the Hubble – it opens up a whole new world of possibilities,” says Frank Della Pia, executive director for the tire research center and a former GM vehicle dynamics manager. “It can test tires in the full range of the performance spectrum. This facility has no peer in the world. It’s going to enable a transformational leap in tire technology.”

The NTRC also operates the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion (SoVa Motion) Laboratory that conducts shock and suspension testing and provides virtual prototyping of vehicle components. It is expected to employ Tire Center test data to conduct drive and handling simulations that could help reduce time and cost of vehicle program development.