Flat tires have long been the biggest plague facing motorists. In 2017, research conducted by auto experts AAA found that 28 percent of new-model cars didn’t even come with a spare tire in the event of a tire failure, with manufacturers choosing to eliminate them to reduce costs and improve fuel efficiency. In 2016, the AAA estimated that it assisted 450,000 drivers with flats and repairs. Loss of air pressure or simply driving over a piercing object can blow out a tire, causing delays, accidents, and emergency stops into repair facilities.
Tire manufacturer Michelin is looking to change that. In collaboration with General Motors, the company is working on a tire named Uptis (Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System) that doesn’t use air and cannot be rendered flat. The design, which would be the first airless tire system for passenger cars, debuted at this week’s Movin’ On Summit in Montreal.
Though the tire has conventional treads, the middle layer is made of composite rubber and resin-embedded fiberglass spokes. The spokes provide support for the treads and remove the need for air.
The two companies believe the Uptis will last longer than a regular tire because it cannot be worn down by being under or over-inflated. The design is also intended to be environmentally friendly, as it would reduce the number of tires thrown out due to damage. According to Michelin, 200 million tires are discarded every year.
The tires will be tested in a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles later this year. If the trial goes well, Michelin expects they could be available on new General Motors vehicles by 2024. It’s not yet clear whether Michelin would sell the tires separately or if vehicles might need some kind of modified chassis in order to accommodate them.