GREENVILLE, S.C.—The Michelin brand is one of the most recognizable in the world, but the tire maker knows it can't relax. At least not if it wants to continue as one of the most innovative in its field.
Pete Selleck's job is to ensure the North American arm of the tire giant does its part.
The president and chairman of Michelin North America Inc. has been busy in 2014, with two major investments in South Carolina to expand the firm's earthmover agricultural tire capacity; in Lexington, S.C., to expand its performance passenger tire car capacity; in Waterville, Nova Scotia, to produce more of its X-1 tire; and in Louisville, Ky., to convert the plant to make higher technology grades of synthetic rubber.
And recently, Michelin said it is investing $50 million to establish a manufacturing facility in South Carolina to produce its Tweel line of airless tires.
Selleck said Michelin is investing about $2.6 billion in total expansions worldwide for 2014, with North America seeing a hefty share, probably because the region represents about one-third of Michelin's total sales, reporting $10.3 billion in 2013.
“We are very respectful of our competitors,” Selleck said. “Everybody in the tire industry today has strengths, and everybody is improving. We are very respectful of that. We're in no means resting on our laurels. We know we have to continue to improve in all areas simultaneously. I don't think there is one particular area where we're horribly deficient. We're focused on improving everywhere.”
Michelin said in 2012 the total investment of its new 800,000-sq.-ft. earthmover facility in Starr, S.C., combined with an expansion at its existing earthmover facility in Lexington, totaled about $750 million.
Selleck said about 80 percent of the earthmover tires produced in South Carolina will be exported to other regions of the world, making North America Michelin's flagship for the product. The firm operates one other earthmover tire plant, in Spain.
The manufacturing facility represents the firm's 19th in North America and 15th in the U.S. The firm operates three in Canada and one in Mexico, with about 22,000 of the group's 112,000 employees in the region. Michelin has 14 distribution centers, sales headquarters in each country, and a research and development center and a test track about an hour from its Greenville headquarters.
The firm also launched three products in the North America region, highlighted by the Premiere All-Season passenger car tire in April, debuting at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Its BF Goodrich brand re-launched the BF Goodrich All-Terrain TA tire on Oct. 1, with tread that extends almost halfway down the sidewall. And in Mexico, Michelin's Uniroyal brand launched a radial truck tire, which Selleck said will debut in the U.S. this spring.
Selleck said the Premiere All-Season passenger tire addresses the issue of wet braking performance as it wears using its EverGrip technology. Popular Science magazine recently selected the tire as one of the Top 100 innovations of 2014 in the automotive category of its annual Best of What's New list.
Through new rubber compounding, new shapes in the ring grooves and placing some shoulder grooves, Michelin has been able to minimize the impact of that erosion. Selleck said the tire stops better when it's worn than some of its competitors do brand new.
“We are known as the most innovative company in our industry,” Selleck said. “We're the ones that have basically made all the major inventions in the last 70 to 80 years, and we're still doing that.”