Automotive

Michelin and GM unveil airless tires for a puncture-free ride

Road hazards are absorbed by the Uptis tire, eliminating about 200 million tires a year that are scrapped early due to damage
Road hazards are absorbed by the Uptis tire, eliminating about 200 million tires a year that are scrapped early due to damage
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Michelin and GM will be testing the Uptis airless tire on a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in Michigan later this year
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Michelin and GM will be testing the Uptis airless tire on a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in Michigan later this year
The Uptis airless tires bear the vehicle's weight as a tire normally would
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The Uptis airless tires bear the vehicle's weight as a tire normally would
During driving, the Uptis tires are dynamically similar to standard pneumatic tires and weigh about the same
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During driving, the Uptis tires are dynamically similar to standard pneumatic tires and weigh about the same
Road hazards are absorbed by the Uptis tire, eliminating about 200 million tires a year that are scrapped early due to damage
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Road hazards are absorbed by the Uptis tire, eliminating about 200 million tires a year that are scrapped early due to damage
The Uptis tires are an evolution of Michelin's Tweel tire and wheel replacement for machinery
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The Uptis tires are an evolution of Michelin's Tweel tire and wheel replacement for machinery
The Uptis tire is targeted for production in 2024 for on-road use 
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The Uptis tire is targeted for production in 2024 for on-road use 

Michelin has teamed with General Motors to target a 2024 production goal for airless tires. The tires, called Uptis, will have several benefits over radial tubeless tires and will debut for testing on the Chevrolet Bolt electric car.

Michelin says that the Unique Puncture-proof Tire System ("Uptis") prototype represents a major step toward realizing its Vision concept, first unveiled at the Movin'On Summit for sustainable mobility in 2017. The end goal is to replace both tire and wheel with a full assembly unit for passenger vehicle use. GM plans to begin real-world testing of the Uptis prototypes later this year on a Michigan-based fleet of Bolt EVs.

Airless tire technology has several benefits both for the vehicle driver and for the planet. The tires use less raw material and less energy in their production, reduce the number of scrapped tires from puncture or damage, eliminate most irregular wear issues from over or under inflation, and reduce dangers on the road from blowouts and sudden flats.

Michelin and GM will be testing the Uptis airless tire on a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in Michigan later this year
Michelin and GM will be testing the Uptis airless tire on a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars in Michigan later this year

Michelin says that, currently, about 12 percent of tires on the road will be scrapped early due to blowouts and about 8 percent will be scrapped due to irregular wear because of inflation issues. That forms much of the total of 200 million tires scrapped annually for early replacement.

The Uptis is a production-ready version of the Tweel system which Michelin unveiled in 2005. Michelin announced a new US$50 million plant in 2014 for producing airless tires. The Tweel is being produced for non-passenger vehicle use, specifically in construction, farm, and other equipment.

For the car driver, Michelin claims the Uptis tire won't feel much different from a standard pneumatic tire. The weight of the Uptis is inbetween the weight of a standard tire and a run-flat at 22.5 kg (49.6 lb). The Uptis has the advantage of removing the need for a spare tire, however, which can be a significant weight savings for a vehicle.

Michelin has not announced pricing structures for the Uptis tire system and has not indicated what range of vehicles or vehicle sizes the Uptis will be available for. The company talks about targeting fleets and shared or rented vehicles, so the tires are not likely to be available at average consumer-level costs to start with.

Source: Michelin

16 comments
zr2s10
My main concern with airless tires has always been about debris in between the supporting spokes. Ice, mud, or rocks in between there could cause damage, or at the very least, throw them out of balance. Also, tire shops may have to learn new methods for changing them, unless you have to swap out the entire assembly, which will up the costs.
Daishi
If they combine the tire and rim when it wears out you have to replace both. The fact that it weighs more means it takes more material to build the rubber structure than it does to use just air for it. I'm curious how favorably they wear compared to a standard tire but it sounds like a better invention for someone selling them than for people buying them.
fb36
Hopefully, the actual production version will have its sides covered w/ cloth etc! But, IMHO a much better solution to create airless tires, would be to invent a very light & elastic & durable material (similar to aerogel/hydrogel), that can be filled into all existing tires!
JasonBurr
As for wheel/tire assembly - if these work like the commercial/ag versions then the rubber "tire" will just press on and off the wheel. Also speculation at one point about just the tread section being pressed on. Debris in the open section has the same hazard at snow/mud/debris getting stuck in a thin spoke wheel. Same problem of out of balance and/or damage. On that same subject any covers, fabric or other wise, will be subject to wear and damage and can then actually make problem worse by holding debris in the void that would other wise have fallen out. I like the disposal aspect. If just the tread gets replaced then quick chop and you have flat strips to handle. I wonder if the same applies if the whole "tire" is pressed off the wheel?
Daishi
@JasonBurr I think the risk of debris inside these tires would be much higher than in the rim itself. For starers even small amounts of mud would be enough to clear the tread and ooze into the gap where much deeper mud would be needed to reach the rim/wheel. There is a greater width (the tire width) of the pocket in the tire vs the fairly narrow spoke that would not hold debris. If you filled one of these with mud and rocks and then drove on it it would create wear on the baffles and change tire balance. Generally tires are put on and off the rim while deflated and then inflated later where these could be a challenge to get on an off the rim. If they can easily be taken on or off by a person then they could potentially come off while driving or under normal operation which is likely why they are targeting selling them already attached to the rim as a single unit. It still seems like air is a cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to provide structure to the tire. We already have methods to deal with flats. You could even put baffles like this in air filled tires as a backup method which would address the issue of protecting the sides from entering debris.
paul314
I wonder if the open structure is required to dissipate the heat generated in the ribs by constant flexing.
Howe
I'm sure they will be great for winter, when they fill with snow & ice, and going 20 mph feels like an earthquake.
TomLeeM
I drive a very small car that does not have room for a spare tire. It just has space for an air compressor and sealant. There is only so much they can do for a flat. I think an airless tire will give peace of mind for small cars and cars that only have a spare as an option. It seems they are not the only one that has an airless tire. I think competition will give the companies an incentive to make the better and less costly.
KaiserPingo
Punctures these day, on quality tires, are quite rare. So to most people, its a no-problem problem. The tyre shown has been shown in variations since the late 70's - early 80's. It uses a lot more material than a normal tyre, so in terms of weight and rescources its a step back. Hitting a hard, sharp edge, like something granite, the tyre can still be broken and need replacement.
jeffco67
50 pounds seems really heavy for a small car tire and wheel. I've mounted thousands of tires. A 50 pound combo is more like a truck/suv. Paul 314, yes exactly. A pneumatic tire uses the volume of air to help spread the temp through the whole tire carcass and dissipate. This needs direct external airflow to those load bearing ribs or they would overheat and start failing quick. When Michelin first dropped this idea so long ago, the federal DOT at the time pretty much said they would never approve a non pneumatic tire for highway use. At least not this one. Someone here was very close to the crux, the idea is the cost savings if they didn't need to equip you with ANY redundancy, tire-wise. Long, long ago GM came up with a spare that was basically a nylon disc with ribs similar to this, with a tread-patterned BELT around its outer edge. Chintzy, cheap, light and very small and thin, and would never be3 flat when you need it. The Fed said you guys must be high. You can't be serious...no way.