Innovation: Tesla with airless tires tested in Luxembourg


LUXEMBOURG. On Tuesday, a Tesla vehicle with airless tires was tested at Goodyear’s proving ground in Colmar Berg. Technical rate.

As promised by Goodyear, Michelin or Bridgestone, indestructible, maintenance-free airless tires could soon be used in trucks before they revolutionize automobiles. On Tuesday at the Goodyear test site in Luxembourg, journalists tested Tesla with airless tires. This thin layer of rubber, glued onto black spokes, must accomplish the feat of physics: travel thousands of miles, distributing the car’s mass as efficiently as compressed air.

The technical stake is almost met: the rubber-plastic frame does not collapse on the sharp turns of the race track, and the powerful electric car rolls smoothly. But it slides more than with regular tires and howls a lot more when you ride.

Second generation in development

These tires have been tested for 120,000 kilometers, up to 160 km / h, in heat and snow, without serious damage, says Michael Rachita, manager of the non-pneumatic tire project at Goodyear, near the track. A second generation is being developed, “lighter, offering less rolling resistance and less noise”. The first manufacturer to reinvent the wheel could strike a blow: these tires will ride the roughest roads without checking their pressure. We could use one structure for the life of a car, recycle it and save material by “rebuilding” a thinner layer of rubber, as is already done on heavy duty vehicles.

Michelin has established itself as the forerunner of the Tweel, an airless model suitable for industrial mowers and construction site equipment. But the demands of a road car (high speed resistance, durability, comfort, quietness, cost) seemed insurmountable. The French equipment manufacturer, together with the American car manufacturer General Motors, developed the Uptis model, which it tested at a speed of 200 km / h and showed at car shows.

“We will continue for several decades”

Bibendum promises “announcements” from the end of 2022 on fleets. His teams are working on, among other things, a fiberglass-resin cocktail that would bond the rubber to the new tire’s honeycomb structure. “We will have tires that wrap the air for decades to come,” said Michelin CEO Florent Menego. Goodyear, which first filed a patent for this technology in 1982, has since bet on the accelerator.

The Ohio-based manufacturer promises a “completely durable and maintenance-free” tire by 2030, looking in particular at the development of autonomous vehicles. One of the versions is already equipped with shuttles, as well as small delivery robots on university campuses. Bridgestone is also aiming for commercialization “within the next five to ten years” after trials at utility parks. According to the Japanese manufacturer, this solution will allow them to “minimize lost time” due to “tyre-related incidents.”

“Part of our reflection on our business model”

Other manufacturers are skeptical. “An airless tire creates problems in terms of suspension and noise. It’s not a viable solution and I don’t expect it to be,” Continental manager Gerrit Bolz said at the 2017 tire conference. is preparing its own truck concept with European funding. “In particular, they could improve the rolling resistance and increase the range of electric vehicles, which is very valuable for manufacturers.”

If the race for airless tires isn’t rampant, Mr. Sandberg said, it’s because the development of puncture-proof tires will force manufacturers to transform their factories as well as their business model. “Airless tires are part of our analysis of our business model and our manufacturing processes,” says Xavier Freipon, Goodyear Vice President of Product Development for Europe (EMEA). Like Michelin, the manufacturer is considering tire subscription models paid on delivery or per kilometer.