In automotive circles, airless tires are akin to cold fusion, calorie-free everything, and thoughts and prayers. They’re all nice ideas, just haven’t come through on execution. Michelin has been toying with the idea since 2005 but to no avail yet. Now, Michelin bosses told The Drive that they’ve tested their Uptis airless tires up to 130 mph with law enforcement in mind after successful applications of the technology in utility vehicles and landscaping.
“The police of some European countries visited us and said, ‘Guys, we want this under our cars, because when we have to rush after the bad guys, usually they put a bullet in our tires before they go. So, we need it.’” Michelin Senior Vice President Bruno de Feraudy told us recently. “So they wanted to test Uptis, and they tested it at 210 km on our internal test circuit. And it worked well.” (Advantage: Airless tire preventing punctures in a shootout, apparently.)
The Uptis tires appeared on the Chevrolet Bolt in 2019 and on 30 Toyota HiAce DHL delivery vans in Singapore this year to test their usefulness on relatively low-speed delivery vehicles. Now we know the tires can go much faster, although whoever is behind the wheel must be very brave. Michelin didn’t confirm what vehicle the tires were tested on, but said they were “normal police vehicles.” [Editor's note: Normal could be Volvos to Lambos in Europe.] They also told us that they wouldn’t confirm the original 2024 launch date for the tires but said it would be an option and wouldn’t take the place of normal tires.
“It’s not something that will be developed at a broader scale for the time being. We are still working on new solutions, because we are learning a lot with Uptis,” de Feraudy told us.
We also asked Michelin CEO Florent Menegaux about how big he sees the airless tire business becoming.
“Aptis will be very useful for autonomous vehicles, because in autonomous vehicles, what you don’t like is to have a call within the vehicle to say sorry, there is a puncture, can you get out of the vehicle and replace the tire,” he said. “But it will not be replacing tires everywhere. It will be more for certain types of applications where a puncture would be a big problem."
Menegaux also revealed that Michelin's been in talks with Tesla about testing the Uptis tires.
"Now we have various discussions with General Motors, with Tesla, with certain vehicle makers to see what type of applications could be suitable," he added.
Airless tires may indeed have a future and one that could arrive soon. Perhaps not at 130 mph, at least not without a brave soul behind the wheel.
Editor-in-Chief Kyle Cheromcha contributed to this report.
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