Michelin innovation puts safety first
Why do you need a winter tire in the first place?
As weather conditions can vary tremendously in the winter, stopping distances can be as much as eight times longer on certain roads. A winter tire helps reduce these stopping distances, offering enhanced grip and handling for a safer ride.
Throughout the entire first half of the 20th century, drivers travelling during snowy weather or in mountain areas had to resort to makeshift and often risky methods such as cutting grooves in the tread with a saw.
1910: the ice braid
Michelin’s studies on safety and comfortable driving resulted in the creation of an ice braid consisting of several strips of leather plaited together which was then wound around the tire for a better grip.
1912: the ice chain
Michelin soon discovered how to improve this system and created a device which later came to be known as an ice chain. According to an advertisement dating 1912, it resembles a flexible ladder with steel chain side rails and triple-wrap leather rungs with rivets on the outside.
1933: the very first snow tire
It went by the name of the MICHELIN N. The concept was based on a special tread design with protruding lugs which offered excellent grip on soft surfaces. Few improvements were made to the design until the fifties when the “M+S” mark made its first appearance on the side wall. The tire still had voids to expel the snow quickly. At this time, the N tread, which had already proved itself on conventional tires, was adopted on the radial or X tires invented by Michelin.
1930s: here comes the sipe
During the thirties, Michelin worked on a new concept to improve vehicle traction on wet ground: the sipe.
This new invention was first used on summer tires:
- the MICHELIN STOP in 1934,
- the MICHELIN PILOT in 1937,
- the MICHELIN X in 1949,
before being applied to winter tires allowing Michelin to launch its first all-season tire: the MICHELIN XH.
This radial tire was designed for driving on snowy or icy roads as well as on dry or wet surfaces. Its tread design featured a multitude of sipes and wide grooves cut in a zigzag pattern to help expel the snow plus centrally positioned rubber tread blocks and holes for studs. The MICHELIN XH offered all the benefits of a winter tire in terms of its various grip-enhancing techniques.
1968: the MICHELIN X M+S
Michelin launched its first mass-produced winter tire, the X M+S. The X M+S3 soon followed suit. These tires are intended for drivers who regularly have to be on the road in winter and contend with slush, hard packed snow and black ice. The specially engineered tread consisted of deep and spaced out sipes ideal for expelling the snow. Their zigzag pattern enhanced grip. These tires featured stud holes as standard. For more than 10 years, these “studdable” tires were the indispensable ally of winter drivers.
1983: the MICHELIN X M+S100
Next came the MICHELIN X M+S100: the brand’s new-look siped winter tire. It had more rubber tread blocks but they were smaller to boost grip. But what was really new was the positioning of the sipes across the entire surface of the tread: more than 900 slits in all! The full-depth, angled sipes hugged the road more closely and had self-sharpening edges to provide a better grip. Lastly, the XM+S100 tire was made from a rubber compound which was particularly suitable for winter driving because it remained pliable even at low temperatures. Michelin went on to add further models such as the XM+S130 and XM+S330 to its range.
1994: MICHELIN Alpin
This year saw the launch of the MICHELIN Alpin with its innovative Y-shaped sipes whose edges double as the tread wears thereby guaranteeing excellent traction on winter roads throughout the tire’s entire lifespan.
Start of the 2000s: sipes go 3D
Another pioneering innovation was the invention of 3D sipes. The triple dimension confers excellent road holding in the winter. Also known as waffle or dual wave sipes they were designed to prevent the tread blocks flexing.
2007: sunflower oil plastifying agent
The addition of a new plastifying agent based on sunflower oil (Heliocompound) gave the rubber increased pliability even at lower temperatures which means better grip on wintry road surfaces. This innovation was adopted as early as 2007 on the MICHELIN Primacy Alpin range.
2014: functional elastomers
Michelin’s creativity in technology now focuses on compounds with elastomers making an appearance in the new rubber mixtures. Their function is to make the compound more uniform while allowing larger amounts of silica filler to be used. Traction on wet and snowy ground is thus improved while ensuring fuel savings at the same time. This innovation is featured on the MICHELIN Alpin 5 tire.
2 or 4 winter tires?
To drive safely in winter, all four tires need to be winter tires. With 2 winter tires fitted on the drive wheels, traction upon starting is fine but grip is not balanced between the front and rear of the vehicle. On a front-wheel drive, with the winter tires fitted on the front axle, the vehicle is liable to spin or skid while cornering. On a rear-wheel drive, with winter tires fitted on the rear axle, the vehicle is liable to fail to turn and go off the road while cornering.
Winter starts at 7° C for a tire
This is the temperature below which the rubber of a summer tire starts to harden and loses grip.