PARIS (Sept. 24, 2004) – Group Michelin is debuting two extended-mobility tire innovations at the Paris Motor Show, a non-pneumatic, retreadable composite concept tire and tire/wheel hybrid dubbed "Tweel."
The Michelin Airless is a radial torus (donut-shaped) structure made of high-performance composite materials to which a rubber tread is bonded. Since the tire does not depend on pressurized air to keep it inflated, it is described as maintenance-free.
When the tread wears down the composite torus can be retreaded and returned to service. Michelin said the Airless is designed for use on two- or four-wheel vehicles.
The second innovation, the Tweel, is a non-pneumatic wheel, made up of a rubber tread bonded to the hub through flexible spokes. Tweels could be fitted on vehicles with small wheels, such as wheelchairs, thus improving the mobility of disabled people substantially.
Michelin said it is working on a range of other applications, including smaller earthmover and military vehicles, to take advantage of the Tweel's terrain-resistant properties.
Didier Miraton, head of research and development for Michelin, reportedly prior to the start of the show that these products would be well-suited for use on pothole-riddled roads in less-developed but fast-growing countries, like China and India, according to European news media accounts.
Michelin did not disclose which composite materials it is using in the concepts, but Mr. Miraton is quoted as saying they potentially could make Michelin less reliant on natural rubber.
Michelin describes the Airless as a “fly trap,” in recognition of the original radial tire prototype from the 1940s, which was a series of metallic arches arranged radially around a wheel hub and to which a rubber tread was bonded.
The firm also showed the Michelin Active Wheel, which houses a traction engine inside the parameters of the wheel. Drivers of cars fitted with four such wheels will be able to select two or four-wheel drive, for example, Michelin said.
Michelin Active Wheel also features an active suspension system that will enable drivers to control vehicle behavior when breaking and turning, yielding improved comfort, handling and stability.
The wheel is designed for battery- or fuel-cell-powered electric vehicles and will elminate the need for a gearbox, clutch, transmission shaft, universal joint or anti-roll bar, Michelin said.