LADOUX, France (Nov. 26, 2008)—Run-flats never will be more than a niche product, Michelin research shows, according to a top executive of the tire maker.
Michelin Research Director Philippe Denimal said the company's studies have found only 3 percent of all drivers worldwide want to use a run-flat tire system. He said this means self-supporting sidewalls are a niche product and destined to remain one.
The weight of runflat systems is a big factor.
Denimal said existing runflats are heavy and tend to have much worse fuel consumption than standard tires. He predicts that within 10 years most cars will be sold with only four rather than five tires, including a spare, and the front tires will be a different size from the rear tires.
There will be a need for extended mobility, in the U.S., for example, where there are areas where a tire service station is far away, Denimal said. However, he's no believer that the spare tire is an appropriate way to deliver extended mobility.
Denimal also said the sealant paste used in some competitors' tires also affected fuel consumption very badly. The Contiseal tire, for example, delivers about 11.5 grams of carbon dioxide per kilogram, compared with about 7 grams on a more normal tire, he said.
The Michelin executive also took a shot at the chip-in-tire technology offered by Conti and Pirelli S.p.A., saying it is too expensive for the market to adopt.
“We work on solutions to improve the global performance of the car, to send data to ESP (electronic stability control system) to many other subsystems,” he said. Michelin has such systems available in large mining tires, for example, but “the question is can it be done at the right price?” Not today, he said.
Nevertheless, Denimal said the experience learned in the mining tire business and other applications is providing valuable lessons to Michelin.
“We learn a lot from that, and one day it can be used in many more applications,” he said.