GREENVILLE, S.C.—Make no mistake, Michelin makes tires.
That has been the heart and soul of the company since 1889, and that won't be changing any time soon, even if the company changes a little along the way.
The world's largest tire maker has established a long-term vision for its business that is built on three pillars: people, profit and planet. In the decades ahead, Michelin intends to grow by establishing key partnerships and making strategic investments in technologies, materials and developments that drive not just the tire industry, but sustainable mobility overall.
That journey may connect Michelin to plastics recycling, cargo ship sails, hydrogen electric vehicle charging stations and even the medical industry. And while some of those investments may seem unconventional, each one comes back to a simple premise: responsibility.
"When we say Michelin is motion today, we mean that Michelin is in motion for our customers, we are in motion for people and also for our environment," Alexis Garcin, chairman and president of Michelin North America Inc., told Rubber & Plastics News. "Because what we deeply believe at Michelin is that we should not oppose the economical growth and the mobility of the people because motion is life. We should not oppose that to the protection of the environment. It is not either or. It is with."
In the years ahead, Garcin said, you'll see Michelin make investments in companies, technologies, products and materials that push the tire maker—and other companies across a range of industries—closer to carbon neutrality.
Michelin's high-tech materials business unit—which encompasses rubber products, hydrogen mobility, waste tire recycling, clean and bio-sourced materials and 3D metal printing—plays a key role in this effort. The unit itself may not be focused entirely on tire development, but it is focused on technologies that drive sustainability.
And that allows Michelin to thrive.
"Once we grow in the high-tech materials, we open the group to new business territories like medical or like aerospace, for example," Garcin said. "And, at the same time, we have access to and we develop new high-tech materials that help us to bring to the market by 2050, a tire that will be made 100 percent of fully renewable and recyclable materials."
Developing a 100-percent sustainable tire within the next 30 years may be a tall task, but it's one that Michelin is determined to meet. And the company already has made strides toward that end.
On average, Garcin said, Michelin tires contain about 30 percent sustainable materials. For now, the tire maker is focused on meeting that 50 percent threshold and doing it relatively quickly.
"We have to close the gap between 30 and 50 (percent)," Garcin said.
At least fundamentally, Michelin has closed the gap.
During its annual Movin'On Summit hosted virtually June 1-4, Michelin unveiled a new racing tire, one containing 46 percent sustainable and recycled content. The tire maker touted the product, saying it marks the marriage of sustainability and performance.
"With its totally new innovation engineered for motorsports, Michelin has found what many observers thought was impossible: a way to make a tire with high sustainable content that still delivers superior on-track performance," the company said in a news release.
The achievement largely resulted from the increased use of natural rubber and recycled carbon black recovered from end-of-life tires. Other sustainable materials used in the tire included citrus rinds, sunflower oil, pine resin, and recycled steel and aluminum.