Airless tires, autonomous tech, and future of mobility at Movin’On

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Renewable fuels and pedal power alike share the pathways through Movin’On.

MONTREAL, Que. – The annual Movin’On Summit is a free-flowing think tank of sorts, sharing ideas about sustainable transportation against a backdrop that looks something like the setting for a post-apocalyptic movie. Maybe the exhibit at a modern art museum.

The repurposed Grande Studios at the end of a construction road have been temporarily staged with things like video monitors, lights, and chip-board-walled meeting rooms. A courtyard is flanked by a track where visitors ride electric scooters past a CAT Inc. truck that boasts renewable natural gas as a fuel source. An autonomous people mover sounds its warning as it rolls up and down a lane.

The demonstrated technologies offer the most futuristic appearance of all. Parked throughout the site are prototypes of electrified (the Lion 8) and autonomous delivery vehicles alike, suggesting the promise of things to come.

“Meeting all these people in the same place, it’s great,” says Marc Bedard, the president and founder of Lion Electric Co. “There’s people from all over the place, from New York, L.A., California as well, Western Canada, Europe. It’s good ideas exchanged between people.”

“We are really focusing on sustainability,” says Laurent Bourrat, executive vice-president – long distance and urban transportation at Michelin Group, an ongoing sponsor of the event. “We have been always spearheading the industry. This is good for society and this is good for the planet.”

Michelin’s Uptis tire will rely on new compounds, but won’t need air.

Michelin’s airless tire

In some cases, the future is closer than some people realize. Michelin used Movin’On as the backdrop to unveil Uptis (Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System) – an airless tire being developed in conjunction with General Motors and to enter production as early as 2024.

“Michelin Uptis brings the potential of enormous environmental benefits,” Group Michelin executive vice-president research and development Eric Vinesse said, referring to the value of eliminating the waste caused by tires that are damaged or develop irregular wear before their useful lives are done.

About 200 million tires are scrapped around the world every year as the result of punctures, damage from road hazards, or improper air pressure that causes uneven wear, Michelin notes. Vinesse equated that to 2 million tonnes of raw materials, or the equivalent weight of 200 Eiffel Towers.

The tire features a series of open ribs in the place of air, and is made possible by new materials ranging from enhanced rubber compounds to a resin-embedded fiberglass that offers exceptional mechanical and thermal properties, Vinesse adds.

The application will begin with cars, but heavier uses are already in Michelin’s sights.

“We are focused on passenger car, second stage maybe vans and light trucks,” Bourrat says.

It’s seen as the first step for a Vision concept tire, unveiled at an earlier Movin’On, which would include features such as renewable and biosourced materials and 3D printers to replenish the treads.

Michelin will be involved in testing Sweden’s Einride autonomous vehicles in France. An earlier prototype based on the same platform is used to haul logs.

Concepts in transportation

Above all, Movin’On is used to explore ideas as well as specific technologies.

One discussion session explored the role of autonomous vehicles, whether they are part of a collective, shared, or left in the hands of individual owners.

“Ninety-four percent of the crashes created in the world are due to driver error. We believe autonomous vehicles will essentially eliminate crashes in the future,” observed Steve Kiefer, GM’s senior vice-president in charge of global purchasing and supply chain.

In another session Ron McLane, head of marketing for Peloton, explained how platooning vehicles are now allowed in 29 states. The Silicon Valley start-up’s Level 1 PlatoonPro System allows tractor-trailers to draft one another, keeping drivers connected through tools such as vehicle-to-vehicle radios.

PlatoonPro’s underlying safety systems include spec’s such as disc brakes, collision mitigation systems, automatic manual transmissions, and non-metallic mirrors to support the Dedicated Short Range Communication Antennas. Cameras offer those in the rear trucks a view of the road ahead of the lead vehicle.

Vehicles at the rear of the platoon can boost fuel economy by 10%, while the lead truck can see numbers close to 4.5%. The system costs US $2,900 upfront, but promises $7,816 in savings over five years, based on diesel prices at around $3.20 per U.S. gallon.

Peloton is making the case that work on platooning technologies also offers a path to the quicker adoption of Level 4 autonomous trucks – those that can run without intervention by a driver.

“A lot of single automated trucks are out there today, they require a safety driver,” said Joyce Tam, who leads customer programs. “In that truck, with labor going away, you’re going to see a cost of ownership reduction.”

“Meeting all these people in the same place, it’s great,” says Marc Bedard, the president and founder of Lion Electric Co. “There’s people from all over the place, from New York, L.A., California as well, Western Canada, Europe. It’s good ideas exchanged between people.”

Beyond North America

In another room, a representative from Costa Rica was referring to her country’s recently established national fossil-free plan, and how smaller developing countries could offer an ideal setting to explore ways to reduce the dependence on carbon-based fuels.

By the end of this year, Santiago, Chile will also be home to more electric buses than the U.S. as a whole, added Monica Araya of Costa Rica Limpia.

“It’s a region with a lot of money, and it’s a region with a lot of capital,” she said. The challenge is to focus the funds on transformative change. “You can get to solving this puzzle if you really make a commitment to how we can finance it.”

One of the other challenges for many developing countries, however, is that they are often the destination for many used vehicles that don’t meet today’s environmental standards. Even the newest vehicles are shipped to the market while meeting previous emissions standards.

“What we need to do is to find ways to tap into those institutional investors sitting on the sidelines,” said Guangzhe Chen, senior director of World Bank Group’s global transportation practice. Governments in the region can make a difference of their own. Bolivia has banned the import of diesel vehicles, he said as an example.

Real change always begins with an idea.


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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