Michelin's Sustainability Efforts Might Just Be, Well, Sustainable

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

If you’re interested in a career in automotive journalism, here’s a piece of unsolicited advice – don’t get in the passenger seat of a Lucid Air Sapphire with the car’s development engineer for hot laps of a major racetrack shortly after eating lunch.

If you do, you might find yourself burping unprofessionally as the driver slides through the esses.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun to ride shotgun with pro drivers when they’re going around a famed racetrack like Sonoma Raceway at speed. But normally I try to follow the same rule used for swimming – wait until 30 minutes after eating.

As fun as my ride in the Lucid was, it was a small part of a larger event put on by tire maker Michelin – one meant to give assembled media and analysts insight into the company’s sustainability plans. Other aspects of the event included a chance to chat fuel cells with Symbio, drive an electric-motor-powered big rig on the racetrack grounds, and a few laps of our own in new cars to get a sense of how Michelin’s newest rubber works. Well, two new cars – a Porsche Taycan and Mercedes-Benz EQS – and an aging Ford Explorer.

(Full disclosure: Michelin paid for my flight, hotel room, and meals so that I could attend the event.)

There was a lot going on last month at what was once called Sears Point. We spent our morning listening to key Michelin execs talk about sustainability when it comes to tires and other aspects of the business, and sat down with some of these same folks for interviews later. The rest of our day was given over to the events listed above.

Michelin president and CEO Alexis Garcin told us that the company is all about three P’s: People, profit, and planet. To that latter end, the company has a goal of having all its tires be made of 40 percent renewable and recycled materials by 2030, and 100 percent recycled/renewable by 2050.

If Michelin can achieve that, it claims that EVs shod with its tires will make up to 40 miles more range. When I pressed Michelin on if the company could hit its targets, Cyrille Roget, Michelin’s Scientific and Innovation Communication Director, said the company was “very confident” about 2030 but 2050 was more of an ambition. One challenge, he said, is to overcome negative consumer perceptions about recycled content.

Michelin also was happy to point out that its newest tires are already using 42 percent renewable/recycled materials. Fun fact, by the way – tires, whether they are sustainable or not, are made of 200 different materials.

Michelin won’t be selling sustainable tires solely to consumers – there will be fleet users, too. Pierluigi Cumo, VP of Michelin Business to Business Products for Michelin North America, told me improvements in mileage, rolling resistance, and how often the tires need to retreaded will be part of the sales story as Michelin works with fleets. That will be key, since demand has cratered recently after being unusually strong during the pandemic.

Roget also pointed out that consumers are more sensitive to retail price, while fleet customers care about lower rolling resistance and the fuel-economy savings that would follow.

You might be wondering why Michelin is making this push – is it in response to regulations? Roget says no, since regulators need to first define what constitutes “sustainable” before they can come up with regulations. Garcin also told us that OEMs are targeting a more sustainable tire for the cars and trucks they sell.

When it comes to sustainability, it’s not just about tires – Michelin is working on Wisamo, which is a sailing system for cargo ships.

This isn’t “The Truth About Cargo (Ships)”, however, so let’s take it back to cars and tires. We got the seat time in the EQS, Taycan, and Explorer to see how well this new rubber would help us stick to the pavement.

Obviously, each vehicle’s handling characteristics and abilities are impacted by more than just its tires. The Taycan was going to stick well no matter what rubber it was shod with, and the Explorer was similarly going to be a handful. Without a back-to-back comparison, it was hard to definitively state these Michelins were improved over tires that aren’t so sustainable, but they were definitely sticky enough for a few laps of track duty at 6- to 7-tenths effort. Even in the Explorer.

The Daimler Freightliner eCascadia I drove was shod with Michelin XLEZ+ tires, but tooling around at 10 mph on racetrack access roads isn’t much of a test – I simply had fun living out a childhood dream.

By the way, the Lucid mentioned above wore Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber.

Sometimes the word “sustainable” conjures up an image of compromise. While our tire test gave us only a small taste of what these tires could do, it certainly seems that performance will not be sacrificed for sustainability, at least not with these Michelin tires. We’ll reserve more judgment until we can do a more comprehensive test, but if what we experienced is representative, those who want sustainability without loss of performance may be able to have their cake and eat it, too.

[Images © 2024 Tim Healey/TTAC.com, Michelin]

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Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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5 of 13 comments
  • AZFelix AZFelix on Apr 30, 2024

    Funny referencing cake in your closing paragraph. The last time someone talked to the French people about eating cake, the results were mixed.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 30, 2024

    Michelin's price increases mean that my relationship with them as a customer is not sustainable. 🙁

    • Carson D Carson D on May 01, 2024

      Michelin finds pre-worn tires to be very green, at least for their balance sheet.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.