Michelin expects run-flat tyres sales to surge as car manufacturers start to fit them on higher-volume cars.

So far, run-flat tyres have been mostly confined to premium or luxury models, such as Audi’s A6 and A8, BMW’s Mini Cooper or the Rolls-Royce Phantom, Automotive News Europe reported.

But BMW’s decision to make them standard on its new 1 series is a breakthrough in volume, says Michelin, which is one tyre supplier for the new entry-level premium model.

Nissan and Honda also plan to use Michelin’s PAX run-flat tyre system, but have not yet specified on which cars.

“Run-flat tyres sales are finally taking off,” said Michelin spokeswoman Fabienne de Brebisson.

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Michelin expects sales of its PAX system to grow to between 200,000 and 250,000 four-tyre units by 2005. Since 2001, total PAX sales have been systems for 250,000 vehicles.

In 2000, Michelin, Goodyear and Pirelli agreed to combine forces to develop run-flat tyre systems. Bridgestone also manufactures run-flat systems.

Run-flat tyres allow a motorist with a puncture to drive the car up to 120 miles (200km) at a maximum speed of 50mph (80km/h) before repairing the tyre.

Bridgestone is the main supplier of run-flat tyres for BMW for the 1 series, but Michelin also supplies BMW with its zero-pressure ZP tyres for the model. The 1 series goes on sale in September. BMW has capacity to build 150,000 1 series a year.

The PAX system consists essentially of a rubber ring around the rim of the wheel inside the body of the tyre. If the tyre loses air pressure, the rubber ring supports the tyre tread so the car can still operate at lower speeds. ZP tyres have reinforced sides to withstand the increased flexing of running when deflated.

BMW has been the industry leader in adopting run-flat technology. It first used it on the limited-edition Z8 premium roadster, which went on sale in the US in 2000 and was discontinued last year.

A car designed with a run-flat system can be designed with more boot (trunk) capacity because the spare wheel, jack and tools are eliminated. But the weight saving is less because run-flats weigh more than standard tyres.

Initially, four PAX tyres weighed the same as five standard tyres, so there was no net gain. But currently four PAX tyres weigh the same as 4.7 regular tyres.

“We keep working on that weight issue,” said a Michelin spokesman.

But French automakers say heavier PAX tyres require a stronger chassis and suspension, which adds to manufacturing costs. Tyres are also so-called unsprung weight — mass that directly reacts with road irregularities without being softened by the suspension — so heavier PAX tyres make it more difficult to provide a smooth ride.

Renault sold a few thousand first-generation Scenics with the PAX system, but doesn’t intend to do with the new Scenic. “The value for money isn’t there,” a Renault spokesman said.

Peugeot product planning chief Bruno de Guibert said the upcoming 1007 small urban car aimed at the same buyers as the 1 series won’t use run-flat tyres.

“It’s not a question of cost, it’s a question of weight and comfort,” he said. “The technology needs fine tuning.”