Mobilising for the future

Posted on 19 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

At the eleventh Challenge Bibendum, Michelin commit to a greener future for mobility systems and make surprise announcement of new R&D direction.

Michelin Tyres has hosted the annual Challenge Bibendum since 1998 to showcase emerging technologies in transport, particularly, although not exclusively, automotive industries. This year has a heavy focus in the need to create more intelligent ‘smart’ mobility systems which combine customer desires for quality, performance and environmental protection.

As Michel Rollier, Michelin president said in a press conference at this year’s Challenge, being hosted in Berlin, “In 1998, at our first Challenge Bidendum, no one was prepared to speak openly about ideas around carbon reduction technologies, about sustainability or about collaborative mobility projects. I think Toyota changed the paradigm with their introduction of the first generation Prius. Now, there are 280 vehicles on display outside showing advances and innovations in intelligent mobility for the future.”

Furthermore Rollier spoke of Michelin’s own transformation from a company that simply had no green offering just a few years ago, to a company which has now innovated fuel efficient tyres. More than 30m of these are now in service and are calculated to have saved 14bn litres of fuel and cut 35m tonnes of carbon emissions.

And the company’s ambitions for green credentials do not stop here. After being challenged on the recycled content of its tyres – an area where it is still behind competitors like Continental and Yokohama Michelin leaders said that extensive research was underway into reusing tyre materials in new products – in addition to current systems whereby old materials are used for energy. As head of communication at Michelin, Phil Baldock explained to TM, progress in this area has been slow simply because Michelin will not accept any compromise on the safety of their products. If recycled materials were proved to be prone to faults and responsible for accidents the company might find itself liable.

Talking of other areas of innovation for the overall mobility sector however Michelin today made a surprising announcement to those gathered at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. “We are now working on fuel-cell technology,” said Jean-Dominique Senard, a managing partner at Michelin. On further questioning he explained that although the work represented a leap into a new area for the company it was consistent with its desire to “never hesitate to be at the forefront of technology that is moving our industry forward. We don’t quite know yet what this work will mean for us. We may not manufacture [the fuel cell]…but we must be involved in the development of the future of our industry.”

This sentiment echoed that expressed by Klaus Wowereit, Mayor of Berlin in the Challenge Bibendum opening ceremony. Wowereit stated: “This is not about looking for solutions for just one company or sector. This is about solutions for all stakeholders [in mobility].” Wowereit spoke forthrightly about the urgent need for the democratisation and up-scaling of intelligent mobility solutions for a future which, by 2050 would see two thirds of the world’s population living in urban environments. The Mayor laid a challenge at the feet of industrial partners at today’s event saying: “If electro-mobility is to be successful, it must be affordable for all and without government subsidies.” Wowereit congratulated Michelin on their decision to democratise this year’s event by making it open to the public for the first time and for providing a special student’s day to motivate the next generation of innovators for the industry.

Several UK manufacturers are represented this year at Challenge Bibendum including Europe’s fastest growing clean tech company, Ashwoods Automotive.