Reinventing the Wheel

July 25, 2019

Flat tires or dangerous blowouts may soon be a thing of the past. Michelin is working on manufacturing an airless wheel assembly technology for passenger vehicles called Uptis, which stands for Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System.

Michelin Group Executive Vice President of Research and Development, Eric Vinesse, said the technology comes after more than a decade of research and development and comes thanks to a new generation of high-tech proprietary materials that are puncture proof.

The technology includes a mix of rubber components and aluminum wheels, Vinesse said, but also included a new generation of “resin embedded fiberglass reinforcement,” that he said offered exceptional properties.

“It’s extremely light and extremely resistant,” Vinesse said. “The benefits are numerous — less stress and more peace of mind knowing you’ll never be stranded with a flat tire again, and fleet and commercial vehicle owners will no longer have to plan and check and adjust for flat tires.”

Michelin also highlighted the environmental benefits such a design would offer in terms of savings through reduced raw materials for replacement tires or spare tire production.

General Motors Senior Vice President Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, Steve Kiefer, along with Vinesse, said the two companies are committed to a joint testing and validation program that could see the technology reach the road on consumer passenger vehicles as soon as 2024.

“General Motors is excited about the possibilities that Uptis presents, and we are thrilled to collaborate with Michelin on this breakthrough technology,” according to Steve Kiefer. “Uptis is an ideal fit for propelling the automotive industry into the future and a great example of how our customers benefit when we collaborate and innovate with our supplier partners.”

The company said the technology could potentially be adapted to a full range of passenger vehicles, including autonomous and all-electric technology.

Company officials said that Uptis is a step toward bringing to life the company’s Vision concept — an airless, connected, rechargeable, customizable organic wheel and tire system.

Michelin Group Chief Executive Officer, Florent Menegaux, said the company’s Vision concept represents the sum of the company’s research and development efforts. “I get questions about when this will be available for sale,” Menegaux said. “It happens step by step.”

Of the nearly 18,000 employees the company employs in the United States, a vast majority — more than 8,500 men and women — work at plants in South Carolina, including Spartanburg, which produces truck and bus tires, and Greenville, which produces car tires.

Uptis won’t lead to a big change for the company’s Spartanburg operations, according to Michelin North America’s Director of External Communications Eric Bruner. Bruner said the company’s Michelin America’s Research Center in Greenville did much of the development work for the Uptis prototype, but said as the company reaches commercial production capacity that work would likely be shifted to facilities in India.

“The rationale for that is pretty simple,” Bruner said. “The average driver in the U.S. gets a flat (tire) about once every two years. In Europe, it’s about once every three years. In Asia and other developing transportation markets, it’s about once every six months. So the idea is to produce this technology in the geographies where it can have the greatest impact in the shortest time in favor of advancing sustainable mobility.”

Orr, Adam. (2019). “Michelin, General Motors unveil new flat tire solution in Montreal”. Retrieved from