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Michelin pursues sustainable mobility

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Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard addresses the crowd at Challenge Bibendum, held Nov. 11-14 in Chengdu, China.

CHENGDU, China—Now that the talking—which was done in just about every major language across the globe—has ended, the real challenge begins.

What can we, as government agencies, businesses and individuals, do to improve transportation—or sustainable mobility—in cities across the globe?

That was the central question posed during the Michelin Challenge Bibendum, held Nov. 11-14 in Chengdu's Heritage Park.

What can be done to restrict traffic congestion in urban areas? How can energy consumption be reduced? How can noise and air pollution be tackled? How can road safety improve? What can be done to help climate conditions?

Those were the central questions during Michelin's 12th global summit—or “think and act tank,” as Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard called it. The event first was held in 1998 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bibendum, or the Michelin Man.

The overall goal of Challenge Bibendum is to contribute to the progress of sustainable mobility of people and goods, through a series of seminars, discussions, exhibits and contests involving 250 organizations from the private and public sectors, with as many as 6,000 from across the globe participating.

“The event has become a collective initiative that addresses a collective challenge, which is to reconcile the development of mobility with sustainable development, meaning respect for people and their environment,” Senard said during a news conference.

“At a time when many of our fellow citizens see the mobility of people and goods as a threat to the environment—and even a threat to the economy and society—Michelin believes that mobility plays a fundamental role in human development and is a fantastic driver of progress.”

Senard said the gargantuan goal of Challenge Bibendum is more than a dream.

“Today, and every day, technological innovation is helping to improve the environmental, safety and cost performance of all means of transportation, whether individual or collective,” he said. “Quality and innovation are in the DNA of Michelin.”

According to Senard, up to 70 percent of all people will live in cities by next year, and he said around 2 billion cars will be on the road by that time.

Why China?

It is no surprise then that the Clermont-Ferrand, France-based tire maker brought the event to China for the third time, nor that it chose to spotlight Cheng-du, a burgeoning city in southwestern China.

This year marks the 25th year that Michelin has had a presence in China, and 2014 is the 50th year that France and China have had diplomatic relations.

Chengdu, with a population of greater than 14 million, is the fourth largest city in China, growing at a rate of 1 million per year. The city is bustling with traffic that includes pedestrians, scooters, bicycles, buses and cars. And that's above ground—a subway system, which is being expanded to the newer, outer edges of the city, runs underground.

“That's why we chose to have the event here,” said Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Michelin North America Inc.

“This activity is especially relevant here in China,” said Pat Cox, an Irish politician and former member of the European Parliament (1989-2004), who served as co-host of the opening ceremonies. “The Chinese growth has been bigger, deeper and faster than has been experienced anywhere else in human history. Chinese challenges are not unique in form, but they certainly are unique in scale.”

Michelin unveiled a booklet to serve as the guiding force behind Challenge Bibendum. The 114-page publication, called the Green Paper, outlined five game changers and five action levels to address five key social challenges (see box, above).

The Green Paper was drafted by Michelin's Strategic Foresight team, along with other stakeholders. The book is available for download at

Not just talking

Riders take a spin on a pedal-powered, electric-assist bicycle with a belt-drive hooked to a CVT transmission at Challenge Bibendum in Chengdu, China.

Participants not only could hear the words, but they also could wander through a virtual, sustainable city of tomorrow, on display in the exhibition floor, as well as test some of the solutions during a ride-and-drive part of the summit. In addition, young men and women participated in a two-day hackathon, where they were challenged with the notion of creating innovative and user-friendly apps to invent future sustainable mobility in relation to the five game changers.

Several vehicles were available for test rides—including single-seat and multi-seat electric cars powered by various resources; pedal-powered, electric bicycles; various electric scooters, including sit-down and stand-up varieties; and driverless, computer-controlled vehicles. Among the car companies that exhibited vehicles were BMW, Renault and Tesla.

The event also included more than 60 exhibitors, many of whom demonstrated ways their companies were addressing sustainability mobility. For example, Akka Technologies featured a concept vehicle that can be driven or operated remotely with Akka's lasers, stereo camera and other technology.

Michelin, meanwhile, used the event to showcase its intent to be, as Senard said, a leader in sustainable mobility, as well as take its place as one of the world's most responsible and innovative businesses. He pinpointed two of the six company objectives for 2020: product performance leadership and organizing initiatives to improve road safety.

“In a world with finite resources, the basic idea behind the circular economy is to use those resources more wisely,” Senard said.

“In other words, to do more and better with less. This covers all resources used, from water to raw materials to energy.”

Senard cited Michelin's four-R strategy of reduce, reuse, recycle and renew:

• Reduce the amount of resources used while obtaining the same result by getting the most out of every material used, making tires lighter, longer lasting and more fuel-efficient;

• Reuse tires by repairing, regrooving and retreading;

• Recycle, using two processes: TREC regeneration, where rubber from scrap tires is used to manufacture new tires; and TREC alcohol, where butadiene is produced through a process directly from alcohol supplied from biomass sources; and

• Renew, pushing technologies that will increase renewable materials in tires from the current level of 25 percent.

“We have seen the impact we have had with past Challenge Bibendums,” said Selleck, citing some of the technological advances that have hit the market and improved sustainability over the last decade-plus.

“We need to keep pushing innovation and stay on the cutting edge of where we need to go.”

“There is an urgent need to act,” Senard said. “We need collectively to act. The stakes are high ... we just cannot disappoint. We need to turn these recommendations into action. Actions are never more effective than when they are carried on collectively, so let's make that happen.”