The Uptis tyre, nee the Tweel, has been a long time in development for passenger vehicles but has now had its first outing.
The development of the Uptis – short for Unique Puncture-Resistant TIre System – is a joint venture between General Motors and Michelin. You can understand why both might be keen to get it to market, for you simply cannot puncture the tyre – it doesn’t rely on air pressure to support the vehicle – and it means there’s no chance of a blowout.
According to Michelin those factors alone will prevent around 200 million tyres being scrapped each year. Moreover, it’s said to last up to three times as long.
There’s obviously no need to monitor air pressure as there is none, so excess wear caused by underinflation is a non-issue with this tyre. The tread itself can be made to be long lasting, and the car can be lighter without the need for a spare, or a jack.
Furthermore, the support spokes can be tuned for performance and dynamics or comfort, to the extent that some vehicles may not even require suspension. And braking is said to be potentially better because the vertical and lateral stiffness can be tuned separately, unlike with a regular tyre. Also, the treads can have holes in them as a design feature to limit the changes of aquaplaning in heavy rain.
Other advantages? They take less raw material and energy to manufacture, and Michelin reckons they last significantly longer. Evidently the Uptis can withstand much greater impacts without damage than a conventional tyre, and has a similar rolling resistance and weight (about seven per cent greater than a typical tyre).
Which brings us to construction; evidently the Uptis uses a combination of rubber and composites for the materials between the tread and the aluminium hub.
As to availability, it’s coming. The concept has been available for some time for off-road use where ride comfort is less of an issue, but has yet to be seen on a road car. Well, that all changed recently. German motorists who attended the IAA Show had the opportunity to drive a Mini Electric with the Uptis tyres fitted and commented that they felt no different. And that’s important because initial prototypes developed some years ago were said to be harder riding.
Apparently GM will be offering the Uptis on certain models within two years once regulatory approval has been granted.
As to cost, that’s not yet clear but GM was hoping to make the Uptis available for less than $100 more than a regular tyre. Considering the advantages we’d say that’s Tweelly quite reasonable.