Are airless tyres the future of the automotive industry? It seems that way as tyre manufacturers like Goodyear and Michelin are already investing in non-pneumatic tyre (NPT) technology that offers several advantages over traditional air-filled tyres.
One of the most significant benefits of airless tyres is their puncture-proof nature, which means that they require low maintenance and can withstand wear and tear over time. These tyres also have sensors that can map road conditions, making them a valuable addition to autonomous vehicles that are rapidly changing the industry's needs.
Goodyear's airless tyres are made up of a reinforced rubber tread supported by special plastic spokes that flex and contort as the car moves, while Michelin's Unique Puncture-proof Tire System (Uptis) is composed of high-strength resin embedded with fiberglass and composite rubber. Both tyre manufacturers are testing their products extensively to ensure safety and durability.
However, airless tyres also have their limitations, such as noise and vibration, which manufacturers are still learning how to soften. These tyres also have a greater contact patch with the road, increasing drag and using more energy to drive the tyres forward, which could have implications for battery life and range.
Despite these limitations, tyre manufacturers are optimistic that the benefits of airless tyres will outweigh the drawbacks. Heavy battery weight means that airless structures are particularly suited to electric vehicles, and they are of particular interest to sectors like the military, disaster response, security vehicles, and specialist machinery.
It's clear that the future of the automotive industry is changing, and tyre manufacturers are at the forefront of that change. While it may take years for these products to be widely adopted due to safety regulations and investment in manufacturing facilities, the development of airless tyres is a significant step towards a more efficient and sustainable industry.