Polaris ATVs On Non-Pneumatic Tires

16 Feb

As already hinted in my blog post on Resilient Technologies, there has been some interesting news concerning the ‘honeycomb airless tires’: during the 2012 Association of the United State Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition (AUSA), Polaris Defense, a division of Polaris Industries Inc., unveiled ATVs sporting a honeycomb wheel design. A closer look confirms the uncanny resemblance to Resilient’s Humvee tire design.

Polaris ATV with non-pneumatic tires

Photo Credit: Polaris Industries

 

Polaris Industries And The Resilient Technologies Link

Polaris is a recognized leader in the powersports industry with annual 2012 sales of $3.2 billion. Polaris designs, manufactures and markets innovative, off-road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) snowmobiles, motorcycles and on-road electric/hybrid powered vehicles. Additionally, Polaris owns two small electric/hybrid powered vehicle manufacturers as well as the KLIM apparel brand.

In a little publicized move (the Resilient Technologies website still makes absolutely no reference to the acquisition), Polaris Industries acquired Resilient Technologies in the second quarter of 2012. The transaction was revealed during the Polaris’ analyst and investor meeting in Las Vegas in July 2012. Polaris presented the Resilient acquisition as part of its ‘growth through adjacencies’ strategy.

 

The Polaris Non-Pneumatic Tire

The basic value proposition of the airless tire remains the same: an indestructible tire with good shocks absorption capabilities that cannot go flat and doesn’t require air-ups. It doesn’t look like the original Resilient design was significantly changed and Polaris is going after the same target market that Resilient was shooting for: military applications where continued mobility can make the difference between life and death.

Polaris Industries - Non-pneumatic ATV tire

Photo Credit: Polaris Industries

 

For the time being, Polaris has integrated the non-pneumatic tires (NPTs) into its defense division and testing with the US Army already started in October 2012. In-theater conditions have been simulated in one test where a .50-caliber bullet was shot at the airless tire which was then ridden for 5,000 miles without any issues.

Richard Haddad, general manager of Polaris’ military business confirmed: “We drove one tire with a railroad spike in it for over 1,000 miles. The thing drove like it was brand new. These are designed to last the life of the vehicle. This capability gives our troops an edge when operating in rugged, war-torn terrain.”

 

When Will You Be Able to Ride on NPTs?

Given the history behind the honeycomb tire, the defense division of Polaris was an obvious home for the non-pneumatic tire. As Richard Haddad already hinted, consumer ATVs are next in line since a „never-flat“ tire appeals to farmers, hunters and sports riders alike. As market leader, Polaris makes around 200,000 vehicles a year. Should they really decide to equip civilian ATVs with airless tires, this would become the first broad market application of NPTs (in applications other than solid equipment tires). However, Polaris is yet to announce a target release date.

 

Airless Tire Pricing

Polaris has not confirmed the exact pricing for the NPTs yet. A first indication says that the price of a single tire could easily exceed $500, making it around 30-50% more expensive than a conventional ATV tire and rim assembly. This is not surprising, breakthrough technologies are rarely cheaper from the start than the incumbent technologies. Airless tires will only become cheaper once they are mass-produced and production technologies mature.

Polaris ATV with non-pneumatic tires

Photo Credit: Polaris Industries

 

 

From Humvees to ATVs to Electric Vehicles?

What is interesting in the acquisition of Resilient Technologies by Polaris is the fact that this is yet another occurrence where airless tire technology, originally aimed at cars (or Humvees in this case), moves to a slower speed, lighter weight application.

As Michelin has found out with the Tweel, there are huge challenges in designing a non-pneumatic tire that satisfies the requirements of passenger car tires. ATVs are lighter, slower moving vehicles in a less regulated market. In other words, the homologation hurdles to be overcome for a non-pneumatic tire aimed at the ATV market are much lower than a Humvee type of application.

Though Resilient did demonstrate the honeycomb design on a Humvee, it is unclear how close to production stage that tire ever got. Its fairly safe to assume though that Resilient had still been facing huge design and manufacturing challenges, years of testing and significant investment hurdles before they could have commercialized their NPT. One should not forget that a tire giant such as Michelin, with deeper pockets and legions of engineers, spend seven years developing a non-pneumatic tire. It would have been more than astonishing if a 12-person start-up had beat them to it in only two years.

 

Polaris Industries - Non-pneumatic ATV tire

Photo Credit: Polaris Industries

 

It will be very interesting to see how Polaris will roll-out the Resilient design across its product lines. Given the fact that Polaris was not just content to work with Resilient Technologies as a supplier, but rather bought the company outright, indicates that they have bigger plans for NPTs.

With Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) and Goupil Industrie SA, Polaris owns two subsidiaries active in the small electric vehicle market. It doesn’t require too much imagination to see the airfree tires move from the ATVs to electric vehicles at some point in the future. Certainly this will require quite some further technological advancements but with the ATVs, Polaris has an excellent test bed to develop the technology further.

Of course, most of this is pure speculation at this point. Polaris has been coy about their acquisition of Resilient Technologies and hasn’t given many insights on how they intend to leverage the knowledge and technology they acquired in the long term. However, given Michelin’s release of the Tweel in October 2012 and Polaris’ announcement the same month, it seems that airless tire technology is slowly but surely maturing and moving towards broader commercial use.

These are exciting times for those of us who are watching this space closely! What do you think? Are we getting closer to seeing airless tires on the road, or off the road for that matter, anytime soon? Feel free to share your comments below.
 

 

12 Responses to “Polaris ATVs On Non-Pneumatic Tires”

  1. tony coleman May 11, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    i like the tires want to se more

  2. Thomas May 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    Nice but only good for sand and street, are too heavy when filled with mudd that gets frozen, have seen them before, in ontario, pluss the honey comb needs to be closed in not left open

    • admin May 14, 2013 at 4:31 am #

      Hi Thomas,
      Thanks for the feeback. In your experience, what are the consequences of the tires filling up with mudd? Do they suffer from major imbalance issues or is there anything else? Surely Michelin and Polaris must have encountered these situations in their tests as well, yet they haven’t modified the design yet to close the honey comb/spokes. As this is a recurring feedback I just wonder why the designs haven’t been modified to prevent the cavities from willing up with mudd or debris.

      • Thomas August 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

        Yes the mud does build up inside, but the only imbalance, was at high speed turns, especially with independent rear suspension, polaris stock shocks dont cut it.You need to have gas shocks with high weight adjustments on them, or extreme duty springs, mud bogg will pack in there, in a matter of minutes, but with a sheeted in side wall, its became a non issue in my friends tires, im certain you are familar with the side wall rim protecters, they were used, with a thin sheet of high density plexi, and afixed with fasteners to the tires, just as a test, and it eliminated all dirt or honey comb damage, with the see through plexi, or colored, you still maintain a unique look,you should be aware however most of the testing for polaris tires are done in semi arid areas, as they were origionally tested for military ussage, the only mud they saw was light, if you encounter multiple terrains you will see just how they work..thread wear will depend on the type of terrain, and with, my normal stock tires, im at 1000+km on Carlisle 489s, not half as good as the new design, and I drive on a gravel road, and they are still as good as newso iwould imagine price determines wear of tire,,,, good luck

  3. Ryan Hart July 3, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Thanks for the detailed overview. The thing I’m most curious about is tread wear. Does the added expense of airless tires make it worth it if you need to replace them again when the tread wears out?

    • admin July 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Ryan, you raise an interesting point. At this moment it is a bit difficult to answer since we don’t know the exact prices for the airless ATV tires yet. Assuming there is a price premium for these tires (and this is a safe assumption) your question is very valid. A lot of this will depend on whether Polaris will make the tires retreadable or not. In that case, a single casing could last the life time of your ATV. However, Polaris has not given any hints if their NPTs can be retreaded or not such that this remains pure speculation for now.
      From a regular wear point of view, the airless tires should similar to pneumatic tires.

    • shawn September 20, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      Ryan please define “worth it” I mean if you are stranded due to a flat tire and half to walk a couple of miles would it be worth it? If you start taking fire that would otherwise render the vehicle useless would it be “worth it”

  4. Jim January 14, 2014 at 4:12 am #

    Not getting a flat is worth the 30-40% extra. Imagine a mom with small children or getting a flat is a bad area. This is a big advancement in vehicles.

    Even a bicycle can enjoy never having to stop and fix a flat or falling off if the front tire punctures. Wheel chairs and many vehicles.

    A great invention. The Tweel is still in the works too.

  5. Dave Blevins May 15, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I like it ! Thanks for the article, and I hope to see them out soon as I have a small (10 acres) ranch with a need for tires like this. And my 3/4ton pickup tires are already $500, so the pricing doesn’t bother me. My wife and I are retired and would use them on all our vehicles so we would never have to buy tires again. Have a great day folks, and thank you for the inventive spirit. Keep a close eye on the government as I am sure they will try to impose their evil on your company.

    • admin June 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for commenting. Regulatory hurdles are indeed still an issue for airless tires. Let’s wait and hope for the best!

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