Due to advancing technology, drivers may soon be able to say goodbye to flat tires for good. Bridgestone unveiled a second-generation prototype of an airless tire on Oct. 3 as part of this year’s Paris Motor Show.
The Bridgestone Air Free design is composed of thin resin blades in a spoke-like arrangement (somewhat reminiscent of bicycle wheels) that are created with shock absorption, as well as support, in mind. A single slim band of rubber wraps around the outside.
This is an update of a concept first debuted by Bridgestone in 2011. The company says the new prototype handles heat buildup much better than its predecessor, and provides a softer ride.
The next step, which will take place over the next two to four years, will be to reduce the lateral stiffness of the current model. On-road testing should begin within a year on single-passenger electric Toyotas in Tokyo.
Perhaps surprisingly, the primary motivation for the tire redesign, according to Bridgestone, is environmental rather than purely functional.
“Every part of this tire is recyclable,” said Olivier Monbet, head of Bridgestone’s tech division in France and Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/
The rubber portion of the tire is expected to wear out at some point, but a new one can be slipped onto the frame when heated, according to Monbet.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has worked with private companies to greatly increase reuse or recycling of tire scraps in recent years, and over 80% are now used in other markets (a drastic increase from 1990, when only 17% of scrap tires were put to beneficial use).
The remainder of old pneumatic tires, however, are simply put in landfills.
The Tires of the Future?
Advanced tires can be a tough sell among average drivers, who are generally looking only for the best price.
According to the Hankook Tire Guage Index Survey, which included 1,008 participants and took place between Sept. 19 and Sept. 22, only 64% of Americans even know what kind of tires are on their car.
“It’s important to have a matched set of tires on your car, many people really don’t care what the tires on their car are,” says Rick Genin, Owner of Genins AutoCare. “It’s important to have a matched set, because different tires can be rated for different driving conditions – each tire will give a different response.”
Bridgestone has declined to talk about the price of its Air Free tire at this time, saying only that the cost will automatically decrease as production increases.