Revolution comes via postman’s van: Michelin has been testing airless tires on post office vans since Tuesday, the start of a long-awaited marketing push.
• Also Read: Winter tires are expensive
For the first time in Europe, forty yellow vans will test these airless tires over two years, whose design makes them indestructible. A similar test was launched with DHL in Singapore in January.
The first three Citroëns with “Uptis” tires took the throne in front of the Roost-Varendin sorting center near Douai (Northern France) on Tuesday.
The aluminum wheel and rubber tread remain classic, but 64 black and curved “wings” slide between them.
Made from a composite of fiberglass filaments and resin, these fins must withstand air pressure in terms of comfort, heat resistance and shock resistance. The idea is also that by avoiding under-inflation, these tires will last longer.
The method of assembling these wings, as well as the characteristics of the belt that attaches them to the tread, are well kept secret.
Michelin wants to inspire motorists who have the misfortune of driving with punctured or poorly inflated tires, but also wants to offer a puncture-proof tire solution to delivery fleets, on subscription.
“This is good for safety, the environment and our performance,” said Philippe Dorge, La Poste’s deputy general manager.
“It doesn’t change anything, the feelings are a little better,” testifies Thomas Thant, who delivers packages near Lille. “We don’t worry about punctures or pressure anymore,” and these tires don’t make any more noise than others, he assures.
The models assembled by La Poste were manufactured by Michelin in its Greenville factory in a few thousand copies. The American plant already manufactures the Tweel, an airless tire launched in 2004 for off-road and low-speed use for large lawn mowers or recreational vehicles.
Bibendum is not alone in wanting to reinvent the wheel. In May 2022, Goodyear press tested a Tesla with its “Nextrek” airless tire version.
The American manufacturer wants to test it on delivery vehicles, especially autonomous ones, and aims for mass production by 2030.
American company Smart Tire is betting on shape memory metal developed by NASA for its Mars exploration vehicle. Smart Tire is working with Korean manufacturer Hyundai, but plans to launch a puncture-proof bicycle tire first, which will sell for around $150 from late 2023.
Michelin is also targeting 2030 for the start of marketing and also wants this tire to be more ecological and connected.
“There’s a lot of progress to be made,” says Bruno de Feraudi, who runs the French manufacturer’s new car tire line.
“You learn a lot by sailing them with fleets. We continue to work on rolling resistance, on retreading”, explained Mr de Feroudy, which means changing the rubber strip in contact with the road.
The performance of the Aptis is already similar to that of an “all-season” Michelin tire, in terms of braking and rolling resistance, the manufacturer assures. The test with La Poste, then with other customers, will enable testing over millions of kilometres.
But it is necessary to accept these tires, to produce them in the hundreds of existing sizes and above all to prepare the garages to handle them.
The first customers of these puncture-proof tires may be the police and the army: the French police have already tested them at high speeds, breathe Michelin, just as the soldiers have already tested the Tweel.