Automotive

Michelin's airless passenger car tires get their first public outing

Michelin's airless passenger c...
Michelin's Uptis tire, being developed in partnership with GM, places an airless structure on top of a specially designed rim
Michelin's Uptis tire, being developed in partnership with GM, places an airless structure on top of a specially designed rim
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Michelin took members of the public out to experience what turned out to be a pretty standard driving experience on the Uptis tires
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Michelin took members of the public out to experience what turned out to be a pretty standard driving experience on the Uptis tires
Michelin's Uptis tire, being developed in partnership with GM, places an airless structure on top of a specially designed rim
2/2
Michelin's Uptis tire, being developed in partnership with GM, places an airless structure on top of a specially designed rim

We've been reporting on Michelin's airless tire technology for more than 16 years now. Indeed, the first time we wrote about the "Tweel" back in 2005, it quickly became the most popular story ever for what was then called gizmag.com.

The advantages are pretty clear: firstly, you can never be brought to a stop by a puncture or blowout – Michelin says about 200 million tires every year hit scrapyards early thanks to these. Secondly, you don't have to look after your tire pressures; that doesn't just save you time, it also eliminates all early wear caused by underinflation.

Their internal spokes are hugely tunable to meet desired performance characteristics. You can individually tune their stiffness under acceleration, braking, cornering and bump handling forces. The bump handling characteristics can even be tuned to eliminate the need for separate suspension in some types of vehicles.

You can poke holes right through the tread to let water escape, potentially creating much better resistance to aquaplaning. They take less raw material and less energy to make, making them better for the environment, and Michelin has estimated they'll last up to three times as long as a regular ol' hoop.

They have obviously not been easy to commercialize, though; 16 years and counting is a long and difficult birth for a product people are clearly interested in. The Tweel, which replaces the entire wheel assembly, has been available for some time for various off-road vehicles, but it's still yet to make it to the road.

Michelin took members of the public out to experience what turned out to be a pretty standard driving experience on the Uptis tires
Michelin took members of the public out to experience what turned out to be a pretty standard driving experience on the Uptis tires

Michelin has teamed up with GM to design and start selling an airless tire for street use on passenger cars. Called Uptis, this product is a full-wheel solution requiring specialized rims. Michelin says it will withstand much greater impacts than a regular tire and wheel, and will have a "dramatically" longer lifespan, while adding no extra rolling resistance, not feeling any different to the driver and adding only around seven percent to the weight of the wheel – less than existing run-flat tires do.

GM will begin offering Uptis as an option on certain models "as early as 2024," and the partnership is working with US state governments on regulatory approvals for street use, as well as with the federal government.

At IAA Munich recently, the Uptis airless tire got its first public outing, in which "certain lucky members of the public" had a chance to ride in a Mini Electric kitted out with a set. By all reports, the experience was about as exciting as driving on a regular set of tires – i.e. not very interesting at all. They felt no different. But that's kind of the point here, Michelin is hoping to bring in a new and improved technology with zero change in the user experience.

Hence this awkward interview with "Automotive lifestyle YouTuber Mr JWW" (James Walker):

Uptis Experience with Mr JWW

Source: Michelin

49 comments
49 comments
Primecordial
I foresee balance issues with embedded stones, mud, ice. They will not be practical for winter conditions.
paleochocolate
About damn time
usugo
never be brought to a stop by a puncture or blowout, don't have to look after tire pressures; it also eliminates all early wear caused by underinflation. they'll last up to three times as long as a regular tires.

That is, they will sell them at N times the price of regular tires to recoup profits
paul314
How do all those holes expel dirt and gravel? And how resistant are the spokelets to mechanical damage?

I guess we'll find out.
martinwinlow
Call me a cynic if you will but I think... "Michelin has estimated they'll last up to three times as long as a regular ol' hoop." ... might go some way to explain why we haven't been able to buy any for the last 16 years (and still can't). Just how much are they going to cost to offset all that lost income, I wonder...?
Hans Otto Kroeger
I just wonder how they deal with the dirt that comes into the tires. The tires must get unbalanced very quickly.
Douglas Dean
How bout motorcycle tires?
moreover
Under-inflated tires significantly reduce mileage, meaning gasoline spewed for in vain. And using less material is fantastic considering the stunning volume of tire manufacturing globally. Curious how they'll deal with EVs and their higher torque and acceleration, considering EVs are about to replace 90% of vehicles after a decade.
MarylandUSA
In the late 1970s, I put airless polyurethane tires on my bicycle. They added 2 pounds per wheel, but it was worth it. My stress vanished because I no longer feared getting a flat. In those days, I commuted by bike to a union factory, where I worked as a nonunion technical writer. One time, the union went on strike. They strew broken glass across the entrance road. You should have seen the look on their faces when I rode right through the glass.
vince
I might be deaf but those tires look awfully noisy with those fan like fins. I bet they even vibrate a lot too which they will be inherently unbalanced if a rock chips the fans
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