The National Tire Research Center, located in Halifax County adjacent to the Virginia International Raceway, will have a ribbon cutting on Oct. 24 for its renovated facility and to display the custom-built equipment that economic development leaders and Virginia Tech officials say they hope make the Southern Virginia region the one-stop destination for global tire testing and development.

General Motors' Ken Morris, executive director of Global Vehicle Performance and Safety, and the proving grounds and test labs; Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger; and ConnieG. Nyholm, co-owner and managing partner of Virginia International Raceway, will be present at the Virginia Motorsports Technology Park in Alton to cut the ribbon at 2 p.m.

The $14 million National Tire Research Center was created in 2010 through a collaborative effort led by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in alliance with the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, General Motors, and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

"With this new research facility and major equipment in place, we are on schedule to create a whole new genre of testing starting in January 2013," said Frank Della Pia, executive director for the tire research center. "The facility has no peer. When you add up all the capabilities the National Tire Research Center has to offer, it's going to be a transformational leap in tire technology."

"Previous research by the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and the university's tradition of partnerships with industry created the foundation for this applied research and service enterprise," said Steger. "This is another example of the university taking something out of the laboratory and putting it to practical use in the business community.”

"The huge economic development potential offered by the tire research center is a result of the investment by the Tobacco Commission,"said Virginia Delegate of the 14th District Danny Marshall, who is a member of the Virginia Tobacco Commission. "This project has the potential to save the public money through fuel savings."

"Without the commission's $5 million grant, this idea would have never come to fruition," said Steger. "General Motors also deserves credit for helping to make the business plan work by paying for several years of its use in advance and guaranteeing that its suppliers would test at the facility for the next 20 years."

"The tire center is yet another resource we are proud to offer the growing motorsports industry in this region," said Nyholm, general manager of the adjacent raceway and also a member of the Tobacco Commission. "We couldn't be happier to have the tire center as a tenant and as a neighbor,"

"General Motors will be using the machine extensively starting as soon as it is operational.  That was the basis for our business model.  As a bonus, there has already been interest from other major automobile manufacturers, tire companies, and motorsports representatives," said Della Pia. "We hope to be operating with two shifts in early 2013 with the addition of a third shift by midyear 2013."

An $11.3 million force and moment tire test machine known as a "Flat-Trac LTRe" that measures tire performance has been custom-built for the tire research center by MTS Systems Corporation of Minnesota. The machine is unique in its use of electric motor technology and can run a tire up to 200 mph. It provides data on handling, ride, torque, and braking capabilities on various surfaces, including on wet road conditions. "It has capabilities unprecedented in the world," said Della Pia.

Facilities also include the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion (SoVa Motion) Laboratory, which has an eight-post test rig, wheel force transducers, and simulator lab.  Proximity to the Virginia International Raceway creates synergy, enabling researchers and commercial customers to take what has been done in the laboratory testing environment and see if the results can be replicated on a closed-course circuit. Therefore, motorsports involvement is expected and projects are already under way.

In addition to research, companies would pay the center by the hour to run independent tests. "Because the center is associated with the university, revenue can be invested for more equipment or service expansion. That keeps money here in the region.

"Virginia Tech wanted to be involved due to the research opportunities," said Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. "And the commercial aspect enables us to afford a world-class machine to perform applied research."

"University and industry researchers supported by manufacturers will partner to improve tires," said Della Pia, who worked for General Motors before coming to work for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in December 2010. "Plus, we will educate many engineers in tire and vehicle technology related topics by providing short courses, distance learning, and site visits. This will have a direct impact on the tire and automotive industry and on the driving public, as well as a direct and indirect impact on the local economy."

"Research topics will evolve," said Dingus. "There will be scientific and technical impacts. Applying emerging technologies to tires will result in significant advancements in fuel efficiency and tire performance.  I expect we will also influence vehicle design."

The tire research center alone will employ 15 or more individuals in 2013, and likely as many as 30 when it is fully-operational. Others will work at the SoVa Motion part of our operations and economic models indicate that more than 100 jobs in Southern Virginia will result from the venture by 2020," said Dingus.  "Direct revenues of almost $15 million are expected within the next five years."    

"Our goal is jobs now plus jobs later," said Della Pia. "I think it will be very easy to establish ourselves as a global center for this type of innovative work. The facility will attract other companies to the area, resulting in even more jobs in the long term."

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