No more flats: Michelin and GM to bring airless tires to passenger cars by 2024

Plenty of things can go wrong when you’re driving a car, though thankfully the vast majority of trips go without a hitch.

Tire punctures, for example, are a real headache, but thanks to a collaboration between Michelin and General Motors (GM), the deflating experience could soon be a thing of the past.

Following years of research, Michelin announced this week that it’s ready to hit the road with UPTIS, its “unique puncture-proof tire system,” and is partnering with GM for real-world trials using Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. Testing starts this year and if all goes well, airless tires could be coming to a passenger car near you as early as 2024.

The tire’s all-important rib design is located between the aluminum wheel and the outer tread. It comprises a composite rubber and high-strength resin-embedded fiberglass material that offers plenty of give and durability.

The tire is essentially a more advanced version of the Tweel, another airless design that Michelin unveiled nearly 15 years ago. Early issues with Michelin’s airless tires included excess noise and vibration compared to conventional designs, but fortunately these problems have since been overcome.

michelin and gm aim to bring airless tires passenger cars by 2024 prototype tire testing at milford
Steve Fecht for General Motors

Advantages

Airless tires offer a number of advantages over the traditional design. For example, the elimination of annoying flats and potentially dangerous blowouts will lead to a reduction in waste products — Michelin puts the saving at 2 million tons a year — as fewer tires would be scrapped before reaching the end of their life cycle.

They’ll also reduce the use of raw materials, energy for production, and emissions linked to the manufacture of spare and replacement tires that will no longer be required. And by ending the need to carry a spare tire, cars will also be lighter and therefore more efficient.

Airless tires will also help businesses managing fleets of vehicles to run a more efficient operation as there’ll be no time lost to flats and general tire maintenance that includes inspections for damage and pressure checks.

Testing the tire with the Chevrolet Bolts will put the design through its paces over an extended period, allowing engineers to see how well it handles a range of surfaces and challenging weather conditions.

Looking at this latest development, Michelin’s long-running interest in airless tires looks like it could soon pay off.

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