It’s been almost a lifetime ago since we first heard of Michelin’s plans for their 3D-printed tire movement. We’ve seen prototypes since that initial unveiling back in 2017, but not anything close to a release date. But why is that? To help us understand it, here’s racing driver and host of Driven Media Scott Mansell. He will also explain why car tires still haven’t changed that much over the years:

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It may just boil down to centuries of use and refinement, but the human race has gotten really good when it comes to driving on wheels of insulated air. Driving on what is essentially air is quiet, comfortable, and easy to predict.

Don’t forget tire companies’ endless efforts to constantly refine their rubber tires. You might think the rubber found in tires is just an elastic substance found in some tropical plants, but it’s actually a mix of different substances which contribute to the tire’s traction and overall performance. Couple that with the ever-changing tread patterns and it’s not hard to see why shifting gears to a new tire type is difficult.

michelin airless tires

Why Change the Tire Game

The answer is quite simple: blowouts. If you’ve ever driven a vehicle on rubber tires, you’ve likely had to deal with a flat tire. While small rips and holes can be easily vulcanized, the immediate danger you put yourself and others into when driving on a flat tire cannot be understated.

Another reason why tire failures are a big issue is the amount of waste they produce. Since rubber tires can be easily punctured by debris or road imperfections, millions of tires are scrapped and burned every year – contributing to the increasing world pollution problem.

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This is why we’re starting to see the rise of more sustainable new tire designs. Michelin’s Uptis airless tires, for instance, seek to make tire punctures a thing of the past. These 3D-printed tires use spokes that separate the wheel and the tread – effectively making the tire airless. So not only do you not have to constantly monitor your tires’ air pressure, but you also don’t have to worry about tire blowouts anymore! Problem solved, right?

According to Scott, the answer isn’t as simple as that. In making the tire airless, you’re giving up a lot of the comforts of driving with it: suspension, side-to-side rigidity, and rolling resistance. Turns out, getting airless tires to perform just like aired tires is difficult. This explains why it’s taking a long time for these 3D-printed tires to come out.

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Airless Tires Can Bring Big Changes

For starters, all of Michelin’s prototypes are made with a wheel-tire combo in mind – meaning you can install them yourself instead of lugging your ride all the way to the auto shop.

This also allows the tires to be reused. Once you’ve hit a certain mileage with your tires, you can have them retreaded using a 3D printer. (Michelin has plans for a 3D printing system built specifically for this purpose!)

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There are still a lot of things to know about airless tires, with the biggest question on everyone’s minds being just how they will drive. If Scott Mansell is right, we won’t see Michelin’s 3D-printed tires until 2024 at the earliest. Well, here’s to hoping they get things right before then!


Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.