General Motors and Michelin have been developing airless tires for the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt series.


In a move that could end the practice of keeping the air in tires, General Motors and Michelin have started developing airless tires for the Chevrolet Bolt electric car, expected to be released in the next couple of years.

Alexis Garcin, the president of Michelin North America, said that the company and General Motors would develop the next generation of airless tires for the (future) Bolt.

"We want to bring the next generation of the Chevrolet Bolt with airless tires, and it's going to happen now in the next three to five years," said Garcin.

Although it's not clear that a new car will be called the Chevrolet Bolt, GM has said that it is working on various similar electric vehicles. Michelin and GM have also tested the airless tire prototypes on current-generation Bolts.

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The decline of tire tradition
Ironically, the first commercial airless tire may come from the French company that made the famous "Michelin Man" mascot, composed of air-filled tires.

In the late 1800s, Michelin started to develop air-filled tires for bicycles. Then in 1899, a car using pneumatic tires made by Michelin set a world speed record of 66 miles per hour. The record-breaking vehicle pushed Michelin's popularity to what it is today.

The pressurized air inside a tire has obvious disadvantages; the air can leak, and the tire is prone to puncture. Since then, manufacturers have been working on ways to minimize the risk of punctures and keep the air inside. Unfortunately, tires still get punctured quite often in real life.

In order to address the issue, Michelin uses flexible ribs to provide a spring action for its airless tire design. This design feature helps prevent the tire's tread from getting punctured.

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Reasons why air-filled tires still exist
Despite the advantages of airless tires, they have not been used on passenger cars for over a century. One of the main advantages of air-filled tires is their ability to be customized to fit various needs. For instance, a truck with four-wheel drive can use the air pressure to expand the tire's footprint when driving on dirt by reducing the air pressure.

Also, since vehicles are designed to have suspension systems designed to accommodate air-inflated tires, their engineers have been using them for a long time. Making a change in engineering design poses another challenge.

Since air-filled tires have been around for a long time, it can be very challenging to replicate the characteristics of these tires to their pneumatic airless counterparts.

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