General Motors and tiremaker Michelin no doubt hope a joint research agreement announced Tuesday bears riper fruit than Goodyear’s early-60s attempt to offer illuminated Neothane tires.
The two companies plan to develop and test an airless, puncture-resistant tire, aka the Unique Puncture-proof Tire System (Uptis), with the intent to introduce the product on GM vehicles by 2024. Is the era of the steel-belted radial drawing to a close?
This is TTAC, right? This is the place where we tell people they should learn how to swap out transmissions in their apartment parking lots rather than buy a new car, if I’m not mistaken. We love 11-year-old cars and we love buying used and we hate wasting money.
So I know you’re all going to be thrilled when you hear I spent some time at Michelin’s famous Laurens Proving Grounds in South Carolina last week learning about how tires perform when they are worn, because all of us are driving on worn tires. For real. The minute you drive your car away from the driveway where you mounted and balanced your own tires, your tires are wearing. But I have some wonderful news for you — you’re probably not using your tires long enough. So you could be saving even more money. And isn’t that exciting!
Of course, this assumes that you’re buying good tires to start with. Our good friends at Michelin, who were nice enough to pay for a flight, a night at the Greenville, SC Aloft Hotel, and a pretty good piece of chicken, want to start a dialogue about worn tire performance. I know this because they used the phrase “start a dialogue” at least 20 times over the course of the day. The reason they want all this dialoguing to happen is not only because they feel confident that their tires wear better than their competitors’ tires do, but also because they’d like to see some more standardized testing of worn tires as opposed to new tires.
Airless tires are one of those things that crop up every few years, but they never seem to stick around long enough to become commonplace. Already, certain construction vehicles use flat-proof rubber, and tire manufacturers have been playing with airless systems for some time. For example, Hankook has the iFlex, its fifth attempt at non-pneumatic tires, and Goodyear has actually begun selling airless donuts on commercial lawnmowers. Michelin even has a 3D-printed round that it claims will last the lifetime of a vehicle.
Unfortunately, nobody seems able to come up with a solution that works at higher speeds. While they’re great at taking impacts, the existing designs aren’t so good at coping with high levels of heat. But it’s not for a lack of trying — there may even be a breakthrough just around the bend, especially since everyone seems so interested. Rolling resistance and weight are two of the electric car’s worst enemies. If an automaker could mitigate those issues effectively, that would be another leg up on the competition.
It’s an issue weighing heavy on the top minds at Toyota at the moment. The company’s recent concept EV, the Fine-Comfort Ride, came equipped with a set of experimental airless tires from Sumitomo Rubber Industries, boringly named the Smart Tyre Concept-A. Toyota’s theory is that non-pneumatic tires, consisting of a solid band of rubber encircling lightweight alloys, could eventually compensate for the weight of wheel-mounted electric motors.
General Motors has announced it will choose “sustainable natural rubber” for the 49 million tires it buys each year. The automaker claims it is establishing a set of buying principals to ensure sustainably harvested materials and is encouraging other automakers to follow suit in a bid to reduce deforestation.
It won’t suddenly make driving your Chevrolet good for the environment, but it should give drivers bragging rights — allowing them to claim their tires killed fewer critters before even getting the opportunity to run any over.
However, environmental smugness is occasionally warranted. With tire manufactures representing 75 percent of the natural rubber market (according to the World Wildlife Fund), an overall shift toward sustainability would provide a measurable impact on deforestation. But what is General Motors getting out of this move and what will the price of environmental awareness be?
TTAC Commentator gtemnykh writes:
About 5,000 miles ago, I installed new General Altimax RT43 tires on my 2012 Honda Civic LX, a well-regarded tire according to most sources. Everything was great when I first had them installed: No noticeable increase in noise and much better wet grip.
It was only several thousand miles later that I noticed tire noise. It’s loudest between 40 and 50 mph and sounds like I’m riding around on snow tires. At highway speeds, it’s less noticeable or not at all.
My question: Have you heard of tires starting out more or less quiet, only to later get louder as they approach 5,000 miles?
I could use a good, concise opinion regarding all-season tires. Researching this on the internet is more confusing than researching “chest pain” on WebMD, so you get to be the doctor on this. We’ve got a 2007 Honda CR-V, which my wife drives in 4-season weather about 1,000 miles/month. There are no major snow months here but there is a bit of rain and a couple good snowstorms a year. The CR-V is a great little car, light on the back end despite being 4WD and has 18-inch rims versus the OEM-fitted 17-inchers.
There’s a certain portion of America that doesn’t think that anything is real until Katie Couric tells them it’s so. I prefer Ms. Couric when she’s AutoTuned but the nice people at Michelin have other ideas. They’ve hired her to talk to teens about getting, and giving, good advice behind the wheel.
So, with the weekend ahead, let’s talk about advice, shall we?
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