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Michelin Co-op Provides Student a Well-Rounded Experience

His current co-op with tire maker Michelin is rounding out Lyle James’ education. During his current co-op quarter, Lyle is working on designs for a futurist concept car that includes the TWEEL (a wheel and tire in one) – along with other projects that have already been put on public display.

Date: 10/9/2006
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Submitted by Lyle James
UC ingot It’s a good thing University of Cincinnati industrial design senior Lyle James doesn’t tire easily.

Lyle James

Or else he might not have been able to handle the responsibilities that he’s been given by Michelin on his current co-op assignment. Lyle, presently working a six-month “double” co-op with Michelin North America, Inc., in Greenville, S.C., is designing a futuristic concept car theoretically to be out on the market in 2030 that makes use of Michelin’s  TWEEL (a non-pneumatic wheel and tire in one).

“The TWEEL concept car is just one of many projects I’ve been working on, but it’s certainly the biggest,” explains Lyle, adding, “We’ll be producing a fifth-scale model of the year 2030 concept car, and I’ll be presenting my designs for the TWEEL to Michelin’s leadership on Dec. 22.”

However, the breadth of the project reaches beyond Lyle’s December presentation to Michelin leadership. For instance, because the TWEEL is such a revolutionary product, it’s actually a challenging “sell” to automakers. That’s because use of the TWEEL would require design, manufacturing and maintenance adaptations on the part of automakers.

Lyle explains that because a TWEEL is an airless wheel and a tire in one, it would be impossible to have a flat with one; and it would also basically serve as a replacement to a car’s suspension system. “Because it replaces the conventional suspension, it takes much of the control over a car’s personality and driving dynamics away from the car manufacturer and puts it into the hands of the tire supplier. That’s why the TWEEL is difficult for auto makers to accept,” states Lyle, a student in UC’s internationally recognized College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Lyle James

So, one of Michelin’s long-term goals is to demonstrate the value of the TWEEL, convincing auto makers of its advantages. With his design work on behalf of Michelin, Lyle is hoping to accelerate the company’s efforts.

His concept car design focuses on a futuristic vehicle for the 2030 Paris-Dakar rally (a long distance race) where it would encounter European winter snows as well as searing desert heat and sand. It’s a car, according to Lyle, that demonstrates “ultimate capability and performance.” 

The work Lyle is performing at Michelin is so important that the company actually launched a worldwide search for the perfect intern/co-op to fill this slot within their design department. The company received countless portfolios from students vying for the spot.

View of Lyle

Lyle, the first UC co-op to work for Michelin, received the co-op offer after Michelin  representatives visited DAAP’s Transportation Track studios. “The university’s program is nationally respected so that didn’t hurt my chances. Also, I had previous auto design co-ops, and I’m fluent in French, and Michelin is a French firm,” said Lyle who, in fact, spent one of his previous co-op quarters living in France. While there in 2003, Lyle made contacts at Peugeot and Citroen in France and with Car Styling SE in Belgium. He also was able to view the 24-hour Le Mans road race held in June of that year.

During his previous co-op quarters Lyle worked for Hasbro, Inc., designing toy cars among other items; and for Ingersoll-Rand Company Limited where he designed three concept, work-site vehicles

Lyle, at center, explains an
Lyle, at center, explains an 'art tire' design to two carvers.

Some of the work that Lyle has already produced for Michelin has been on public display. These include “art tires” – the custom carving of a blank tire – for display in magazines, at races and at auto shows. Lyle has supervised the production of a number of such tires, including one for the Turbo channel – a new, “all-things-auto” channel from Discovery Communications – more commonly known as the Discovery Channel. Of the carved and colored tires, Lyle, 24, from Pendleton, Ind., opines, “They look sweet, but they’re not useable. Basically, they’re celebrations of the art inherent in the auto.” 

Not surprisingly, Lyle admits to being an extreme car enthusiast, much like his dad who Lyle confesses is “obsessed” with cars, motorcycles and racing. “I’ve just taken that obsession to a new level,” he laughs.

In fact, Lyle first began illustrating cars when he was 16 and would visit road races around the country. “I would draw vehicles and then sell reproductions of the work at the races. But once I reached a plateau in terms of technical skill, I looked to UC’s industrial design program for an avenue to be more creative. For a while though, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” he recalls.

Lyle at work on an
Lyle at work on an 'art tire.'

Ditto for this co-op job, and that’s why Lyle’s working tirelessly. “The best part,” says Lyle, “Is the responsibility Michelin has given me. My title might be co-op, but I’m the project leader on everything I work on. Because there really are no car designers here, because Michelin has always been more engineering oriented, I’ve been given a lot of freedom. They didn’t have ‘design’ mold that I had to fit into. That’s why the 2030 concept car is my concept car.”

Lyle will finish his current co-op work in December and will return to the UC classroom in January. He’ll also return to a long-term goal: To design, build and then finally race his own car. Well, it’s easy to see that he’s on the right track.

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