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Closeup of Michelin's "airless" Uptis wheel mounted on a Chevrolet Bolt EV. (GM)

Michelin, GM partner on airless wheel for 2024

Michelin has partnered with General Motors to test the tire company’s “airless” wheel technology, which will it says will improve safety and reduce waste by eliminating the possibility of punctures. The two companies expect to begin marketing the Uptis (Unique Punctureproof Tire System) Prototype in 2024.

The novel structure, which has been long in development and is covered by about 50 patents, is made with aluminum, rubber components and resin-impregnated fiberglass, Eric Vinesse, Michelin’s Executive Vice President of Research and Development, explained. Michelin’s technology will be tested on a fleet of Bolt EVs beginning this year.

The airless structure eliminates the possibility of blowouts, improving safety and ensuring that drivers won’t be stranded by flats. Vinesse, speaking at the 2019 Movin’On Summit in Montreal, estimated that 200 million tires annually are discarded prematurely due to punctures.

Michelin plans to start production in North America, but Vinesse said benefits may be greater in other geographies. North American drivers typically have tire punctures every two or three years, while punctures occur every six to eight months in China.

Uptis wheel assemblies can be built to different performance orientations, such as sport or comfort. They also can be tuned to specific vehicles. The design—marketed as Michelin X Tweel—already is in production for a variety of commercial off-road vehicles, from skid-steer loaders to golf carts, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and garden tractors.

Vinesse said there will be several technical improvements in the automotive-applications’ design between now and 2024, when production begins. During that time, regulators and standards bodies also will have to develop new nomenclature and make other changes to address the non-inflatable tires.

Uptis weighs about 5% more than conventional tires, but that weight will be offset because no spare tires will be needed on the vehicle, according to Vinesse. The number of retread cycles will be determined as physical tests are performed.

The wheel assemblies can be easily retreaded, helping reduce longterm costs, but initial pricing isn’t yet determined.

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