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GREENVILLE, S.C. - Those of you who have been around for a while may have seen a 1977 edition of the long-defunct Canadian Road Knight magazine, which featured an article on the "fat tire." At the tim...

GREENVILLE, S.C. –Those of you who have been around for a while may have seen a 1977 edition of the long-defunct Canadian Road Knight magazine, which featured an article on the “fat tire.” At the time, Michelin was experimenting with what essentially amounted to a wide-base single tire, which was being tested by Cambridge, Ont.-based AngelStone on the drive and steer axles of a 1977 Kenworth and the trailer positions as well.

Fleet supervisor Dennis Pickard told the magazine that the tires were getting one-third longer life than duals and a half-mile per gallon improvement in fuel economy. The magazine boldly proclaimed: “There is no doubt the fat tire is coming and the dual wheel will go the way of the hard rubber tire, but cost undoubtedly will be the deciding factor as to when.”

Fast-forward 33 years, and it appears wide-base single tires have finally burst into the mainstream. Michelin recently sold its one millionth X One wide-base single tire since its introduction in 2000, and with X One sales up 50% year-to-date, the company promises it won’t take another decade to reach the two million mark.

During a recent unveiling of the one millionth X One tire produced by Michelin, company officials reminisced about some of the challenges faced when the tire was first launched. For one, they were designing a tire that was a major departure from the traditional mind set on vision alone -not a proven design.

“We had to change our processes, our materials, the equipment, the mind set and the training of our employees,” recalled Ted Becker, vice-president of marketing with Michelin Americas Truck Tires. “To make it even more special, it was all done on a vision -not a product that was in the market at the time with a huge demand for it.”

That vision stemmed from a fairly simple observation. About 35% -one of every three tanks -of fuel consumed by a truck is lost to the rolling resistance of the tires. Much of that energy was lost in the form of heat that escaped through the sidewalls. Since energy was being lost through the sidewalls, Michelin engineers concluded having two sidewalls was better than four.

The wide footprint of wide-base singles created some challenges as well. For one, Becker said the casing tended to expand at high speeds. Michelin overcame that challenge by developing Infinicoil; a quarter-mile long steel cable that retains the integrity of the casing.

“That was the breakthrough technology that made the X One possible and gave it the performance and stability you see today,” Becker said.

Michelin officials recounted that with the invention of Infinicoil, they knew they had a game-changer on their hands. But it wouldn’t be possible to roll out to industry without some OE partners that shared their vision. Freightliner, Alcoa and Utility all aligned themselves with the X One, and the tire was unveiled amid much fanfare at the 2000 version of the Great American Trucking Show. Becker recalled that virtually every Freightliner at the show was fitted with X Ones and there was no turning back.”

The next challenge was gaining the acceptance of fleets and drivers, something that still proves difficult today. Several of the earliest fleets to deploy the X One were represented at Michelin’s celebration, including Robert Transport and Challenger Motor Freight from Canada.

“The fleet customers are the real pioneers who embraced this technology and made it a reality in the marketplace,” Becker said.

Challenger, which like true ‘fat tire’ pioneer AngelStone, is headquartered in Cambridge, Ont., recently ordered 600 new trailers all fitted with X Ones. CEO Dan Einwechter said the company is now considering equipping its waste division trucks and trailers with the tire as well.

“With our new seven-axle trailers with 41 metric tonnes of payload, we may put super-singles on all those positions,” he said. “We think this should work. These tires ride higher in the landfill than the duals, so we think there’s great promise there.”

And while he admitted there was some initial “reticence” among drivers, he said that has given way to confidence in the product as they gain more experience with the tire.

Einwechter’s experience with some initial driver resistance was not uncommon, according to other fleet executives in attendance. However, fleets that use the X One seem to have overcome those challenges. Con-way Truckload’s Bruce Stockton said “Every one of our tractors today has it on the drive positions and 75% of our trailers are now equipped (with X Ones). By the end of 2011, 100% of our trailers will be (on X Ones), so it’ll be a 10-wheeler instead of an 18-wheeler and someone will have to write a new song about that.”

Since launching the X One in 2000, Michelin figures its customers have collectively saved 63 million gallons of diesel and eliminated 639,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. That’s equal to removing about 127,800 cars from the road. Michelin says fuel savings of 4-10% are typical and replacing duals with wide-base tires also shaves 700 lbs from the weight of a tractor-trailer.

“Each time you weigh out before you cube out, you can add additional payload,” said Michelin’s chief operating officer, Francois Corbin. But the savings are not exclusive to big fleets.

In a one-on-one interview with Truck West, Corbin said, “large fleets are more visible but a lot of owner/operators have moved or are thinking of moving to X Ones. It’s not focused on the large fleets. If you save 4-10% fuel, it’s as relevant to an owner/operator as it is to a fleet with 10,000 trucks.”

Regulators in Canada, at one time a major impediment to the widespread adoption of wide-base tires, also appear to have come around. Every province now allows US-legal weights on singles and Ontario and Quebec now allow full Canadian loads to run on wide-base tires.

To demonstrate the fuel-saving potential of the X One, Michelin performed a visual demonstration of the tire’s rolling resistance supremacy. It spec’d two identical Freightliner Cascadias: one fitted with X One XDA Energy singles on the drive and X One XTAs on the trailer and the second truck equipped with Michelin’s ultra high mileage but not so fuel-efficient XDA 5 duals on the drive and XT-1s on the trailer. Both trucks were equipped with XZA 3 steer tires.

The trucks were driven on the same three-mile course and kicked out of gear at the same location at the same speed (40 mph).

The truck and trailer fitted with X Ones coasted 800 feet (about 14%) further, which would normally translate to about a 4.75% fuel savings. While visually impressive, field engineer Ty Cobb admitted it wasn’t a scientifically sound measurement of fuel consumption.

“This is just a demonstration,” he said. “If we were really measuring fuel, we’d be out doing an SAE J1376 fuel test.”

That said, Cobb noted the real-world fuel savings are consistent with what was demonstrated.

“This truck does not have as much friction on the road,” he reasoned, gesturing to the X Oneequipped Cascadia. “Rolling further means it takes less energy to turn the tire. And less energy to turn the tire means it’s going to save fuel -the fuel stays in the fuel tank.”

Stability is another of the X One’s strong points, and that was demonstrated on a wet, tight oval track at fairly high speeds, replicating what might occur if a driver takes a corner or ramp too quickly. Professional test drivers took editors on a spin in two similarlyspec’d and loaded straight trucks.

Make no mistake, you can still lose control of a truck fitted with X Ones. However, the truck with X One rubber was noticeably easier to regain control of while the driver of the truck on duals had his hand full trying to save a partially sideways truck. (It should go without saying, this is not a maneuver you want to try yourself on public roads).

Michelin, it’s fair to say, has pursued the wide-base tire market more aggressively than any other tire manufacturer. As a result, it enjoys a
healthy market share advantage in this segment, which Corbin says it will defend vigorously as competitors -notably Bridgestone and Continental -attempt to eat into Michelin’s share with wide-base singles of their own.

“We like competition,” he said. “Competition is good for customers and it’s good for us. But we’ve clearly created a gap with the competition and our intention is to at least keep the gap and perhaps to increase it.”

Getting back to the article in the 1977 edition of Canadian Road Knight, a photo caption read: “In the future, the looks of the wide single tire will be accepted as normal.”

The future, it appears, is now.

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