Though we won’t get too technical about the differences between steel and alloy wheels, we will say that the latter are lighter and better heat conductors. As a result, cars fitted with alloy wheels sport improved steering and handling and prolong the life of the brakes. They are also more visually appealing, but that’s another story. On the other hand, alloy wheels are considerably more expensive to make than steel ones, which raises the overall price of the car.
Future of the Wheel
As the traditional wheel design is close to exhausting any possible development, companies are looking at more and more exotic prototypes to replace it. Among these, Michelin is probably the most active in the field of research with two recent innovative concepts, the Tweel and the Active Wheel System.
Announced in 2006, the Tweel returns to the first designs by using a non-pneumatic solution instead of the traditional tire and wheel combination. The rolling surface consists of a rubber tread, which is bonded to the hub via flexible spokes. The flexible spokes are fused with a deformable wheel that absorbs shocks and rebounds. Michelin claims that even without the air needed in conventional tires, the Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like load-carrying capacity, ride comfort and resistance to road hazards.
Though it offers many advantages, the Tweel is marred by a big problem: vibration at speeds over 50 mph (80 km/h), which only makes suitable for construction and personal mobility vehicles.
Active Wheel System
The concept is probably the most revolutionary of them all as it incorporates all of the car’s key components into the wheel itself. While only suitable for electric cars, the Active Wheel System houses the engine, the suspension, the gearbox and the transmission shaft.