The Electric Edouard Michelin as Generator and Transformer
“Why you?” “Why Michelin tires, why a tire company?” it was the first question I asked Edouard Michelin when I saw him in Shanghai, China at the 6th annual Challenge Bibendum. The Challenge Bibendum is the green, clean alternative fuels and vehicle symposium that is attended by the world. Challenge Bibendum was founded by Michelin to bring all countries together with a commitment to improving the state of the world in the field of transportation. The theme of the Bibendum rally in Shanghai was “Rallying together towards sustainable mobility.”
Edouard Michelin didn’t have to start this symposium. Michelin tires didn’t have to be the one to start this event. Tires will be needed on all cars for years to come, no matter which alternative fuel or vehicle the future holds. And there are over 220 million used vehicles that need tires. When you look at all the companies that would have benefited more from all the publicity such an event would give them, you wonder why one of them didn’t start this program 9 years ago, before Edouard Michelin.
Edouard Michelin died last week off the coast of Brittany in a fishing accident. Edouard Michelin died leaving a legacy that goes beyond the family empire he will leave behind. Edouard embraced the journalists with his passion for sustainable mobility to help him in the short time he would be on this earth so that he could get the word out.
Michelin is known for their advertising of their tires for safety. You see it in the little child inside the tire; the effect saying, that “your child is safe inside our tire.”
Perhaps it was because Edouard and his wife had six children of their own. Perhaps he would have felt this way whether he had children or not, but Edouard believed not just in the safety of a child while using a Michelin product, but the sustainability and mobility of all people. After the 2005 Detroit Auto show, I was on the Autoline Detroit television show. John McElroy, the host of the show, asked me what I thought was best of show. The Tweel, I responded.
The tweel is a wheel for people in wheelchairs. In a collaboration with IBOT, Michelin produced a wheel that could go up and downstairs, which could rise to the height of the person they were talking to. As I wrote in my article back then, “When in a wheelchair there is an amount of dignity that is lost, not only from being in a wheelchair but from people looking down on you. The tweels allow wheelchair-bound folks to be at eye-level with standing humans, to feel like one of them, human.” Somewhere, up in heaven, Edouard and Christopher Reeve are discussing this chair.
Last year a group of Europeans, many French, journalists had come over to take a trip through the Michelin American headquarters and Michelin plant in South Carolina and travel up to Joplin, Missouri to visit Contract Freight Inc (CFI), trucking.
At the Michelin plant, the guides gave us pieces of the new X-one ridged tires that Michelin was making for the 18-wheelers. The new tires would save 4 gallons of oil production over the old two-tires used by the 18-wheelers. It was Edouard, and Michelin, that made me so aware of the plight of the trucker, talking about how the cost of tires, and fuel, can make or break a trucker. In my article, I quoted Michelin as saying that truckers drive around 130,000 miles each year. If each trucker could save 1/3 of a mile per gallon it would save almost 13 million gallons of diesel a year.
The questions that were being asked after lunch were all about the Michelin business and a couple of comments about the fact that the journalist appreciated having an interview with Edouard. The answers by Edouard were all pretty much “from a script” until he got to my question about the Challenge Bibendum and sustainable mobility. The passion that followed so astounded some of the foreign journalists that they commented on it afterward, trying to find out why we Americans were so interested in this Challenge Bibendum.”People ask me how much we spend on sustainability. We spend $18 billion a year making good tires. Challenge Bibendum challenges all companies about mobility problems, accidents, safety, and congestion. It has to be your mission to research your behavior to be in sync with a better future in your field. Michelin is fully aligned with this for the future.”
Edouard didn’t start off as CEO. Michelins North American boss, and one-time boss of Edouard Michelin, was Carlos Ghosn, now head of Nissan and Renault.
I would like to echo Carlos Ghosn’s comments on Edouard’s untimely death “This tragic disappearance is a great loss for the automotive industry. Edouard Michelin was a courageous corporate leader, true to his past and open to the world. He constantly endeavored to balance economic and social constraints and to ensure the continuity of his company. I would like to express his deepest sympathy and condolences to Mr. and Mrs. FranÃ§ois Michelin and their family, Mrs. Edouard Michelin and her children, as well as to all Michelin employees and former colleagues.”
The child inside the wheel will still be as safe inside the Michelin tire. But Edouard needs our help now more than ever. The voices he reached out to, the groups that came together before need to stand up and out now.
This year’s Challenge Bibendum will start Saturday, June 10th. The theme of the Bibendum rally this year should be changed to “A commitment to sustainable mobility”.