MARSEILLES, France—As Michelin prepares its Pax run-flat integrated tire-wheel system for original equipment use late next year, the tire maker believes consumers are ready to accept the new technology. The Pax wheel-tire has a run-flat insert that enables drivers to drive 50 to 55 mph for 125 miles without tire damage when a tire loses air pressure. The system has a device that monitors tire pressure and alerts the driver that a tire is running on the support insert.
Don Baldwin, manager of new business development at Michelin North America, said the tires will be available as OE on a General Motors, Ford Motor Co. or DaimlerChrysler sedan in the second half of 2000.
He said Cadillac has told limousine builders that its limousines will have run-flat tires by 2005. He expects that Pax will become an established part of the industry in about 10 years.
``It is our feeling that it will go faster than the radial—the market dynamics are stronger,'' Mr. Baldwin said, during a press event in Marseilles to showcase Pax.
``You'll see (Pax) on vehicles in 2000, and a couple more vehicles in 2001, and in 2002 there's more,'' he said. ``One of the applications is limousines. Today they need run-flat capability, and you can't get it because they're too heavy. Pax has the ability to carry the load.''
Mr. Baldwin said the elimination of a spare tire and a jack will make the price and weight of the four Pax tires comparable to that of five regular tires and a jack. While there also is a price to pay for the monitoring device, Mr. Baldwin said the Pax system run-flat capability adds value because it enables the driver to retain control of the vehicle if tire pressure drops suddenly.
Twingo uses Pax
French automaker Renault started mounting Pax on its Twingo Initiale compact car this year.
Mr. Baldwin said consumer research conducted by an independent agency for Michelin in Europe and the United States shows that consumers want to be able to drive safely on a punctured tire.
In February, Michelin agreed to share Pax technology with Italian competitor Pirelli S.p.A. in an effort to accelerate market acceptance.
U.S. car makers have not embraced run-flat tires. They remain unconvinced that most run-flat designs offer enough mobility and safety advantages to offset rolling resistance, weight and price disadvantages.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, the tire industry supplied 64 million OE tires and 216.8 million aftermarket tires for cars and light trucks in the United States in 1998. Run-flats make up less than 1 percent of overall tire sales.
Run-flats may cost consumers as little as $6 to $10 more per tire than radial tires, but the sensor system can cost as much as $200.
J. Michael Hochschwender, president of Smithers Scientific Services Inc., told attendees at an aftermarket symposium in Chicago in May that it will be many years before run-flats dominate the replacement tire market, but as performance improves, so will consumer demand.
Traditional run-flat tires are self-supporting and use the sidewall and the tire to support the vehicle when the tire loses air. Pax has a flexible support ring inside the tire.
Michelin has developed a monitor that transmits information about tire pressure to an instrument panel display. Johnson Controls has developed a sensor, dubbed PSI for ``Pressure Safety Information,'' that can be used with Pax as well.
Mr. Baldwin said Michelin has assembled an aftermarket service team that is setting up a network of outlets to service the tires.Michelin will work with car dealerships and independent tire dealers to train technicians to service the Pax system.