Your car is still using pneumatic tires and that’s great. They absorb impact, they are relatively quiet and safe. But maybe it is finally time to take air out of the tires? Don’t get us wrong – deflating your pneumatics would be a mistake. However, Michelin and GM have just presented something that could be reinvention of a passenger car wheels – an airless tire.
Interestingly original tires were actually airless. At first it was just a think wrap of rubber and later it evolved into solid rubber tires, which, as you may know, are still used in those electric scooters that everyone seems to love nowadays. Solid rubber tires were completely immune to punctures and lasted for ages. In fact, if you took care of your car, you could pretty much count on your solid rubber tires to last for a decade or two. Eventually they would wear down like a pencil eraser or would start cracking from dry rotting – sun and warm-cold cycles eventually beat them up.
You never had to worry about flats, inflating or anything like that. You could literally drive over nails. However, there were some big issues – they were heavy and didn’t absorb the impact from driving over bumps of the road. Quite frankly, they didn’t even offer that much grip, because they were not conforming to the surface of the road very well.
Michelin Uptis prototype in action
But Michelin and GM are not aiming to reintroduce solid rubber tires. Michelin’s new Uptis Prototype (or “Unique Puncture-proof Tire System”) is an open-frame tire, which doesn’t hold any kind of pressure inside – it is completely open. The shape of the tire is maintained by the frame – these veins that span the distance between the rim and the thread. This means that you can drive over sharp objects and damage the thread – it won’t cause any trouble. GM plans to introduce Uptis on passenger vehicles as early as 2024.
Seems ambitious? Well, maybe, but tires like this are already being manufactured. Some riding lawn mowers use them, as well as forklifts and even military equipment. Prototypes are great as well. But what are the advantages?
Airless tires are obviously more expensive and potentially heavier. However, GM’s plan is all about safety, economy and the environment:
- fewer critical punctures and blowouts means that less tires go to landfills before their threads are worn off;
- airless tires avoid uneven wear associated with over- or underinflation;
- they are safer, because blowouts are impossible;
- replacement tires are not needed anymore.
Cars already rarely have spare wheels and airless tires could make them completely disappear. Of course, there are some challenges. One is the price, another is mounting system. Also, it is important that airless tires wouldn’t be too springy or aerodynamically inefficient. But, we will have to wait and see how it will work out.