Non-pneumatic, airless tires have been a long time coming, but have yet to crack the consumer market. Bridgestone may change that, or at least get them into the public consciousness; as tire sponsor of this summer's Tokyo Olympics, the company will provide a fleet of bicycles (presumably in Olympic Village, the details are unclear) kitted out with their non-pneumatic tires.
So when will they go from bicycles to consumer cars? Jon Kimpel, Bridgestone's Executive Director for New Mobility Solution Engineering, explains that there's a step in between:
"Fleet operators are asking us for these," Kimpel told Automotive News. "This technology solves a problem for them and it saves them money. Their job is to keep their trucks on the road, and you can't do that when your tires are not properly inflated.
"On the truck side," he added, "there's an air-related issue every 8,000 miles. If they've got a truck that's not running, it's costing them money."
Going after sure-thing fleet sales, rather than funding a PR blitz to convince perhaps-skeptical consumers that these newfangled tires are an improvement, seems like a wise business decision--at least for the short term.
According to freight company U.S. Special Delivery, there are 500,000 trucking companies in the U.S., consisting of 15.5 million trucks, with 2,000,000 of those being tractor trailers. There are undoubtedly plenty of contracts to be had.
And once the kinks are ironed out and/or consumers are ready to embrace non-pneumatic tires, there's a killing to be made: There are 272 million registered passenger vehicles in the U.S., according to Statista. And of course, they all need four tires. (Although, if pneumatic tires live up to the hype, perhaps they won't need a spare.)