MARSEILLES, France - Michelin believes consumers are ready to accept its Pax run-flat integrated tire-wheel system, and it says Pax will be original equipment on some sedans late next year.
The Pax wheel-tire has a run-flat insert that enables drivers to drive 50 to 55 mph for 125 miles without tire damage when a tire loses air pressure. The system has a device that monitors tire pressure and alerts the driver that a tire is running on the support insert.
Don Baldwin, manager of new business development at Michelin North America in Greenville, S.C., said the tires will be available as original equipment on a General Motors, Ford Motor Co. or DaimlerChrysler sedan in the second half of 2000.
He said Cadillac has told limousine builders that its limousines will have run-flat tires by 2005. He expects that Pax will become an established part of the industry in about 10 years.
'It is our feeling that it will go faster than the radial - the market dynamics are stronger,' said Baldwin, during a press event here to showcase Pax.
'You'll see (Pax) on vehicles in 2000, and a couple more vehicles in 2001, and in 2002 there's more,' he said. 'One of the applications is limousines. Today they need run-flat capability and you can't get it because they're too heavy. Pax has the ability to carry the load.'
Baldwin said the elimination of a spare tire and a jack will make the price and weight of the four Pax tires comparable to that of five regular tires and a jack. While there also is a price to pay for the monitoring device, Baldwin said the Pax system run-flat capability adds value because it enables the driver to retain control of the vehicle if tire pressure drops suddenly.
TWINGO USES PAX
French automaker Renault started mounting Pax on its Twingo Initiale compact car this year.
Baldwin said consumer research conducted by an independent agency for Michelin in Europe and the United States shows that consumers want to be able to drive safely on a punctured tire.
In February, Michelin agreed to share Pax technology with Italian competitor Pirelli S.p.A. in an effort to accelerate market acceptance.
U.S. carmakers have not embraced run-flat tires. The companies remain unconvinced that most run-flat designs offer enough mobility and safety advantages to offset rolling resistance, weight and price disadvantages.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association in Washing-ton, the tire industry supplied 64 million original-equipment tires and 216.8 million aftermarket tires for cars and light trucks in the United States in 1998. Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication to Automotive News, says run-flats make up less than 1 percent of overall tire sales.
Run-flats may cost consumers as little as $6 to $10 more per tire than radial tires, but the sensor system can cost as much as $200.
J. Michael Hochschwender, president of Smithers Scientific Services, told attendees at the Fourth Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium in Chicago in May that it will be many years before run-flats dominate the replacement tire market, but as performance improves, so will consumer demand.
Smithers, of Akron, Ohio, evaluates products for several industries.
Traditional run-flat tires are self-supporting and use the sidewall and the tire to support the vehicle when the tire loses air. Pax has a flexible support ring inside the tire that supports the vehicle.
Michelin has developed a monitor that transmits information about tire pressure to an instrument panel display. Johnson Controls has developed a sensor, dubbed PSI for 'Pressure Safety Information,' that can be used with Pax as well.
Baldwin said Michelin has assembled an aftermarket service team that is setting up a network of outlets to service the tires.
Michelin will work with car dealerships and independent tire service outlets to train technicians to service the Pax system.