Michelin’s airless tires finally hit the road

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For several years, Michelin and Goodyear have been waging a fierce battle, the object of which is none other than the development of airless tires. And at the moment, it’s the French equipment manufacturer that seems to have taken a bit of the lead with its Uptis hitting the road.

Today, everything is done to limit pollution from the automotive industry. In addition to the 2035 ban on the sale of thermal cars in Europe, a lot of work is being done on engines, increasingly virtuous thanks to innovations such as synthetic fuel. But many other aspects must be taken into account. Starting with the tires, whose wear would also be more polluting than exhaust gases, as confirmed by a study by Emissions Analytics. Secondly, their recycling also consumes a lot of energy, just like their production.

A more virtuous solution

Fortunately, there is a way to reduce the ecological impact of these must-haves. In particular, this implies the development of airless tires. While currently 20% of tires are destroyed prematurely due to punctures and other defects, according to Michelin, this solution would save 200 million tires a year, or the equivalent of 2 million tons of material. According to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, every year 59 million tires are produced in France.

Waging a fierce war with Goodyear, the French equipment maker already markets a airless system dedicated to bicycles, called X Tweel. But while the company announced the commercialization of its Uptis (Exclusive puncture-proof tire system) designed for use in the automotive industry between 2025 and 2028, the first examples have just hit the road.

Indeed, Michelin recently signed a partnership with DHL, to supply Uptis airless tires to the carrier’s fleet as part of a trial in Singapore. This pilot program began on January 10 with some trucks, to reach the 50 vans equipped by the end of 2023. The equipment manufacturer specifies that these large-scale tests began one year before the initial program.

These trucks will make last-mile deliveries and then help the company complete development of its airless tires. As a reminder, this began in 2005, while the concretion of these sixteen years of work was formalized in 2021, equipping then a 100% electric Mini Cooper SE.

A smart and greener idea.

With this experimentation in real conditions, Michelin took a good lead over its rival, Goodyear. The company is also developing its own airless tire, first installed in 2021 on a Tesla Model 3.

Both solutions have a similar operation, since they are composed ofa tubeless structure, which therefore does not require filling and which cannot be drilled. The properties would then be identical to those of a standard tire, as would its efficiency. The air is simply replaced by an innovative structure that supports the weight of the vehicle, guaranteeing comfort and safety.

On the other hand, it is most likely that specific wheels are required to install these tires, but nothing has been detailed about that yet. Developed in partnership with General Motors, Michelin Uptis, like the Goodyear solution, offers many advantages. Because if they cost more to produce, and therefore logically they will be more expensive to buy, it should be cheaper to use.

This will particularly benefit the fleets of companies such as DHL, which could then achieve significant savings by reducing punctures and therefore the frequency of tire replacement. Not to mention the waste thus avoided, as well as safety issues related to incorrect pressure.

Where the American manufacturer differs from its French rival is in the massive use of recycled materials, since its innovative rubber is made up of 90% of them, compared to 45% for Michelin. But beware, these two cases are conventional tires that use air.

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