Bridgestone wants to become the first tire maker to introduce airless tires on the market by targeting commercial vehicles rather than passenger cars, according to a report from Automotive News. But first, it will launch a smaller and lighter version of them on a fleet of airless-tire bicycles at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Bridgestone is an official sponsor.
The company has developed air-free tires that won’t puncture or need to be refilled, relying on spokes of recycled, high-strength thermoplastic resin for support rather than pressurized air. It tells AN that it has developed large airless tires capable of supporting 5,000 pounds of weight (per corner) that it plans to begin marketing. There’s no word on when it plans to launch them for commercial vehicles; Autoblog left a message seeking comment with Bridgestone.
“Fleet operators are asking us for these,” Jon Kimpel, executive director for new mobility solutions engineering at Bridgestone, told the publication. “This technology solves a problem for them and it saves them money.” He added that trucks average an air-related tire issue every 8,000 miles and that down time due to flats costs fleet operators money.
Bridgestone unveiled the first concept version of its non-pneumatic tires, as they are called, in 2011 and revealed the second generation, also a concept, in 2013 at the Tokyo Motor Show. They boast improved load bearing, driving performance and environmental design, with all materials used able to be recycled and offering an improved, lower rolling resistance, which means lower CO2 emissions on part with their fuel-efficient pneumatic tires. Bridgestone had hoped to introduce them in the bicycle market by 2019.
A Bridgestone spokeswoman says the company is focusing on testing and providing the concept with pilot customers and there is no time frame for launching the tires with commercial vehicles.
Bridgestone brought the concept bicycle and commercial vehicle tires as part of its debut earlier this month at CES, the annual technology trade show.
Michelin first introduced an airless tire concept via something called the Tweel back in 2005, and more recently introduced the Uptis, which it’s working with GM to test on the Chevrolet Bolt electric car. If all goes well, the Uptis could be an equipment option on GM vehicles no earlier than 2024. (You can read more about how the Uptis works here.)
The airless tire’s unusual appearance and admittedly different ride performance from traditional tires may mean that their introduction into the passenger vehicle market is still a ways off. Targeting commercial fleets first may be a smart move to gain acceptance before selling them to a general audience.