Toyota Exploring Airless Tires

By: Ryan Gallagher November 17, 2017
Toyota's Fine-Comfort Ride concept car, introduced at October's Toyko Motor Show, was outfitted with airless tires from the manufacturer Sumitomo. The tires could accommodate heavier electric cars in the future.
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New tire technology on the horizon may actually reinvent the wheel… or at least the rubber tire.

Toyota Motor Corporation is looking into using airless tires to ultimately reduce vehicle weight and road friction. At the end of October, Toyota employed GYROBLADE airless tires on their Fine-Comfort Ride concept vehicle displayed at the Tokyo Motor Show.

“For automakers, the attraction of airless tires is for electrified vehicles,” said Takao Sato, Toyota’s chief engineer. “These wheels could be used on any electrified vehicle.”

Japan’s Sumitomo Rubber Industries created the airless GYROBLADE tires, which feature a band of rubber encircling a plastic-aluminum center.

“Airless tires contribute to greater safety and peace of mind in transportation by freeing the driver from worries about punctures and the trouble of having to manage tire pressure,” Sumitomo officials stated.

Theoretically, the airless tires would compensate for the increased weight of an electric engine, though the airless technology is not quite ready—currently, the airless tires weigh about the same as air-filled tires.

What’s more, the airless tires have issues with rolling resistance that pneumatic (i.e., air-filled) tires do not. The new airless tires generate more rolling resistance, or friction, which works against the tire when it’s in motion—as much as 10-20% worse than current pneumatic tires.

Toyota and Sumitomo are not the first to enter into the airless tire game, though they are the first to try the technology on passenger cars. Companies like Bridgestone and Michelin both have versions of airless tires for lawnmowers, golf carts, construction machinery, and recreational all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

Sumitomo is working to overcome these rubber limitations, and speculate that a lighter tire with less rolling resistance will be ready by 2020. In addition, Sumitomo officials promise customers that the new tires will not break the bank, and will instead be just as affordable as their air-filled counterparts.

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