The days of the "I got a puncture on the way to work" late excuse may be coming to an end with news that air filled (pneumatic) tires may soon be a thing of the past. South Korean tire manufacturer Hankook said it was in the final stages of factory testing a series of consumer oriented airless tires (also called non-pneumatic tires, or NPTs).
American tire manufacturers Michelin and Polaris have had NPT's on sale since late 2013, but these are designed for agricultural vehicles like tractors and combine harvesters, and off-road ATV's.
Hankook said its’ focus was on producing NPT's for the much more profitable consumer market, not just for low-speed, ruggedness applications like its two American competitors.
A statement released by Hankook said the current series of “rigorous tests” were designed to prove stability, durability, and hardness (efficiency), which included the ability to take high-speed turns on a slalom like course and the ability to maintain “integrity” at speeds in excess of 80 mph.
The statement said the tests had shown “impressive results in five categories which demonstrated that the NPTs could match conventional tires in terms of performance.”
Road safety experts said although the Hankook internal test results were promising, there was no guarantee that the tires would be released for consumer use any time soon. They said there would need to be a lot of independent safety testing done before they were allowed to be sold generally.
Environmental groups have welcomed the news of the NPT's because the tires are fully recyclable and appear to have a much longer life than traditional tires, and also because Hankook has found a way to lessen the manufacturing carbon print by reducing manufacturing steps from eight to four.
NPT’s have long been used for children’s bikes, wheelbarrows, shopping carts and other slow speed requiring wheeled applications but their durability, especially outdoors has proven to be a minus in their development.