DETROIT—Group Michelin's presence at the recent North American International Auto Show—complete with its Volkswagen Beetle-based PAXmobile—was designed to help heighten interest in its PAX tire/ wheel system technology among participating automakers. The system—a specialized tire/ wheel unit that offers run-flat capability—will go on sale this spring in France on a special version of Renault S.A.'s compact Twingo. Now Michelin wants to gain some attention in the U.S.
``We can talk about it all you like, but until the (car) manufacturers start using it, it's still a concept,'' said Bob Carroll, vice president of marketing, original equipment, Michelin North America.
At least one U.S. automaker noticed: General Motors Corp. installed the PAX system on three of its concept vehicles displayed at the show—the Buick Cielo, the Oldsmobile Recon and the Cadillac Evoq.
``Whether it makes it, ultimately, into production, there's no way to say, but it's something to look at,'' a GM spokesman said.
The automaker doesn't have any formal purchase agreements with Michelin or anyone else but admits interest in the technology. GM also is looking at similar run-flat technologies from other tire makers, the spokesman said.
GM is studying the systems from a capability standpoint, gauging how they will benefit customers and affect the company from a function and design perspective, he said.
``(The technologies) are new and leading edge, and they're exciting,'' the spokesman said. ``We're looking at them because they provide benefits: function benefits, styling benefits, performance benefits.''
The PAX technology may gain more attention if Michelin's competitors can make use of it.
``We are under discussions with other tire manufacturers concerning the licensing of the PAX technology,'' Mr. Carroll said. ``We're not naive; we do realize that one company isn't going to change the industry by itself.''
Michelin also is working with Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler A.G. as well as BMW A.G., Volvo Car Corp. and Mercedes-Benz A.G. for limited application of the technology as an option in both the U.S. and Europe, Mr. Carroll said.
Although Michelin's auto show exhibit was aimed mainly at original-equipment manufacturers, gaining consumer attention may help its case.
``We have market research that leads us to believe consumers are safety-oriented with the options they want on cars,'' Mr. Carroll said. ``Consumers are willing to pay for and expect to be able to run in a run-flat state in the future.''
Michelin gave auto show attendees a first-hand look at the system in an entertaining manner: through the use of two virtual simulators and its own concept car.
PAX system attributes include improved handling and rolling resistance as well as enhanced continued mobility of 125 miles at 55 miles per hour after deflation. In the second-generation run-flat, Michelin has shortened the sidewall and reconfigured the beads for better handling and improved rolling resistance and comfort.
Showgoers were able to get an up-close look at the inside of a PAX tire displaying its lower sidewalls and elastomeric insert or experience a bumpy, swerving virtual tour on the system in Michelin's theater with its film and automated version of ``The Ride'' to Detroit from Pontiac, Mich.
Michelin offered consumers and car makers alike a chance to test out the system through another PAX simulator featuring a steerable standard tire mounted on a steel cylinder with built-in bumps to correspond to the road televised on the screen. Opposite the standard version is Michelin's PAX tire on which drivers begin their drive at full tire pressure and drop to zero during the demonstration.