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More and More Airless Tires

Autosphere » Tires » More and More Airless Tires
Alexandre McCabe is a Network Operations Advisor for Point S Canada. Photo Point S Canada

With more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road, much has been written about tire manufacturers’ efforts to reduce noise, friction, weight and wear.

However, some technologies are beginning to subtly take up more space, while remaining in the shadow of the above-mentioned features. Manufacturers tend to want to get rid of the classic spare wheel. As the latter is heavy, cumbersome and costly, we try to remove it from the vehicle, as it is a kind of dead weight.

Customers with flat tires must be offered a solution. We sometimes forget that one of the tire’s fundamental functions is to support the vehicle’s weight using the air in the envelope, which we try to keep as airtight as possible. The technologies inside the tire are designed either to keep the air in, or to allow the tire to be driven for some time in its absence, until the next repair shop.

The limits of run flat

Several options are available, such as run-flat tires, puncture plugs and emergency inflation kits. “Run-flats” are tires with reinforced sidewalls, enabling them to be driven for short periods at moderate speeds without air. Although simple to use, they have certain disadvantages, such as heavier weight, rougher road handling and a higher price tag. You should also consider replacing a tire that has been driven several kilometres without air, as repairing it could be dangerous, not knowing how much damage the carcass has sustained.

Alternatively, some opt for self-repairing technologies, which often consist of a coating applied to the inside of the tire that automatically seals small perforations. Simple, easy for the user, with little effect on the tire, this is certainly an interesting solution. On the other hand, the coating makes it more difficult for the technician to repair the tire, and you need to be aware that this sealant will not be able to plug large-diameter perforations.

Alternatively, some manufacturers offer “spare kits” consisting of a solution to be injected into the tire through the valve, using a pressurized can and a small compressor to re-inflate the tire. Inexpensive and simple for the manufacturer, this solution is more complex for the user, and will make the technician who has to repair the tire recite the most beautiful words of church, not to mention the risk of destroying the TPMS sensor.

Michelin’s surprising Uptis. Photo Michelin

The airless tire

And finally, there’s the airless tire. A tire revolution unlike anything we’ve seen in the last hundred years, this technology, which has been under research and development for some time now by a number of tire manufacturers including Michelin and GM jointly, looks set to be deployed somewhere in 2024. Let’s bet that many manufacturers will follow suit.

With no inner tubes, the weight-bearing function is replaced by sturdy, strategically placed spokes with a degree of flexibility to absorb road shock. Since there’s no air in the tire, it can’t be punctured, so minor tread perforation has no impact on tire operation.

I’m convinced that rim manufacturers will come up with new technologies to combine with these tires, taking the concept even further. The acceleration of technology will certainly be amazing and exciting!

 

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