As new mobility continues to guide tire industry innovations, one solution—once dismissed as impractical from both form and finance perspectives—doesn't look so impractical anymore.
Yes, tires are going airless.
Because when it comes to autonomous vehicles, particularly those used in fleet applications, little to no tire maintenance is critical to keeping them on the road. And the best way to do that is to eliminate the variable of air altogether.
So far, all three of the world's largest tire makers are seeing success in the nonpneumatic tire development arena, even if they are approaching it from three very different perspectives.
Michelin, which conquered the nonpneumatic space first with the Tweel, looks to expand its expertise beyond the niche OTR segments—and is doing so by focusing on passenger vehicles. The tire maker, in partnership with General Motors, continues to make progress and looks to bring its Uptis tire to the market within three to five years.
Goodyear, meanwhile, is focusing on fleets—of all sizes and types. From small delivery robots to buses and people movers, Goodyear is looking to maximize uptime by tailoring nonpneumatic solutions to vehicles both big and small. So far, the tire maker has found success through partnerships with Starship (a maker of small delivery robots) and Olli (autonomous shuttles). With that experience, Goodyear is looking to bring some solutions to the market in the years ahead.
Bridgestone, meanwhile, is thinking even bigger. The Nashville-based tire maker has its sights set on developing airless tires for commercial trucking fleets and hopes to get them on roadways within three to five years. Admittedly, Bridgestone said, it's a tall task, but it's an R&D risk worth taking. Because if its team can develop a commercial truck tire, the potential market for such a product is promising.
And for the industry overall, that's just the start.
Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. and Yokohama Tire Corp. each told Rubber News during the Global Tire Report livestream that they have been exploring and testing nonpneumatic concepts. And at CES earlier this year Hankook Tire & Technology Co. Ltd. unveiled its own nonpneumatic concept tire.
It's all proof that the future of the tire industry could be airless.