Michelin and General Motors announced today, at the Movin’ On Summit for sustainable mobility in Montreal, a leading technology for airless tires — the Uptis prototype, which uses a unique puncture-proof system. This innovative tire tech is not a retread of the run-flat tire concept. The Uptis is made of a resin embedded fiberglass proprietary to Michelin and is set to go into production for passenger vehicles and SUVs by 2024.
In 2017, Michelin introduced their strategy for R & D in sustainable mobility at the inaugural Movin’ On Summit. Dubbed the VISION concept, it was based on four pillars of innovation: airless, connected, 3D-printed and 100% sustainability.
“Uptis demonstrates that Michelin’s vision for a future of sustainable mobility is clearly an achievable dream,” said Florent Menegaux, Michelin’s chief executive officer. “Through work with strategic partners like GM, who share our ambitions for transforming mobility, we can seize the future today.”
Benefits of airless tires
Since electrification of fleet vehicles is a good use case for the near future, Michelin and GM started initial field testing with the Chevy Bolt EV on closed circuits. Both contended less maintenance — since it is an electric car, and Michelin pitches little to no maintenance to keep this tire going. On top of that, they say uneven wear due to under-inflated tires will not be an issue. Fuel economy may also be more consistent since the tires are under constant load since monitoring tire pressure is no longer a maintenance item.
The Uptis airless tire promoses the same performance and comfort as traditional tubeless tires. However, its design also aims to remove the risk of blowouts and flat tires on the road. The patented resin fiberglass is highly flexible, durable and light. Weight of a passenger-size Uptis tire will fall in-between a tubeless and run-flat tire. Actual real-world performance is a question mark, at least for now. We will have to wait until we can get our hands on these tires to test ourselves.
In addition to the safety factor, there is also the added environmental benefits. Michelin estimates roughly 200 million tires are tossed out due to wear or damage. The design of the Uptis is such that it will continue to work even if slightly damaged. If the tread wears down under normal conditions, there is the possibility of applying new rubber to bring it back to almost new condition so it can continue toiling without replacement. This translates to a huge amount of tires that won’t reach the landfill or recycling center. It also means fewer resources needed to construct new tires.
Shifting the mindset
Michelin is setting out to upset the current tire industry. While design has improved over the past decades, this may be a game-changer. Again, we will have to see more real-world results to judge how these perform in the real world against conventional tires. Since we are a ways out from possible production, pricing is also unavailable at this point. Will Michelin price the Uptis along the lines of a normal tire, or will these be substantially more expensive?