A three‐dimensional membrane element was developed for the finite element analysis of tires. In general, the three‐dimensional finite element analysis of tires uses a lot of computing time because of the complex nature of the problem. Major sources of complexity are, for example, nonlinearities in kinematics, material properties, boundary conditions, and the multilayer structure which is inherent to the tire. One of the ways to overcome this situation can be in the modeling strategy. This paper describes an approach where the cord‐rubber composite components of the tire are modeled by membrane elements. The number of nodes required in the tire model using this strategy is considerably reduced, without any loss of accuracy, compared with models in which only ordinary solid elements are used. The nonlinear finite element formulation, numerical examples, and a comparison of the results with those obtained from models using solid elements and experimental values are given in the paper.