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Tech coverage of the 2005 North American International Auto Show – Prototypes

January 1, 2005

in All Articles,Cars and auto

I found two prototype technologies pretty interesting. Hydrogen cars will allow us to get where we’re going with zero emissions, and Michelin’s wheel technology will make sure we get there easy and safe.

Hydrogen cars

Hydrogen cars are still in their infancy, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from building working prototypes. While they’re not selling to the public just let (I would think availability of hydrogen filling stations might be a problem), it’ll be a great day when we can get high performance cars whose only emissions are water vapor and heat! Below is the hydrogen-powered Ford Focus FCV hybrid concept car.

Possibly the last type of car you’d expect to be environmentally friendly is the Hummer. But believe it or not, there is now a hydrogen-powered Hummer called the H2H. Hummer had a special display compete with footage from California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While not intended for mass production, it’s meant to spread the word about hydrogen benefits and future viability. (Note that the Hummer in the photo below is not the H2H.)


Michelin is doing some impressive things with wheels and tires. The engineers I spoke to told me these technologies will be available between 2010 and 2020. A long time, I know, but these are technologies that could significantly change the way we design and use cars.

Active Wheel

Imagine a wheel that contained everything needed to make a car go and stop. An engine isn’t needed with the Michelin Active Wheel. Neither is a suspension system or most brake hardware. The Active Wheel is a self-contained unit containing an electric motor (to make the wheel turn), regenerative brakes (to make the wheel stop) and a suspension system. With those three components taken care of, there will be more space and less weight in the car chassis. Things will look very different under the hood.

Airless Wheel

No more flat tires, with the same feel of driving as with a “regular” air-filled tire. Michelin intends to deliver on this promise by introducing the Airless Wheel. The Airless Wheel comes in two forms. One (below left) is a rubber tread that acts as a skin for an skeleton of polyurethane and fiberglass. This skeleton is extremely strong yet flexible enough to absorb the worst Detroit pothole. When the outside rubber tread wears out, remove it and install a new one.  The other form (below right) is similar in idea but very different in implementation. The structure is much more rigid and distributes road force in a different way. It will be up to Michelin to determine which concept works the best.

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