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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2001 : Happenings

Michelin Challenge Bibendum 2001

Car manufacturers and owners strut their “greener” stuff for the industry.


In 2000, 57.5 million new vehicles were sold worldwide. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be two billion cars on Earth. With that kind of growth, today’s model of the fossil fuel-burning internal combustion engine is simply not sustainable. Almost no one argues with this premise—not even the automobile manufacturers. But, what will move consumers from mental ascent to purchase? Confidence.

If consumers believe that they will retain the benefits of performance, comfort, safety and reliability, that confidence will come. And confidence is what Michelin Group intends to affirm for the general public by hosting the Michelin Challenge Bibendum. Edouard Michelin, CEO of Michelin Group, states, “In the second hundred years of its existence, the automobile must be reinvented. It must not only provide the unprecedented mobility and personal freedom it always has, but it must also minimize its impact on the environment.”

The Michelin Challenge Bibendum is a unique opportunity for automobile manufacturers to showcase the performance of road-ready, nearly ready and prototype vehicles.

The 2001 event—staged for the first time in North America after two editions in France—kicked off in high style on October 26 with a design awards reception at the Automobile Club of Southern California’s headquarters. Boasting nearly five million members in Southern California, the Auto Club is the largest AAA affiliate in the United States. Internationally renowned designer Sergio Pininfarina served as honorary chairperson for the design judges board where winners in nine different categories were announced.

On Saturday, October 27, Michelin Challenge Bibendum traveled to Fontana’s California Speedway for acceleration, braking, slalom, noise and energy use performance elements as well as a media “ride and drive.” The California Speedway has seen many champions in almost every variety of motor sport, but this was a first. The premier North American running of the Michelin Challenge Bibendum 2001 efficiency and range trials saw a very different field of competitors zooming around the oval at a blistering . . . 55 miles per hour?

“It is not the kind of competition one usually associates with a venue like this,” says Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin’s director of motor sports, “but fuel consumption and vehicle range are very competitive selling points in the minds of consumers.” Dupasquier points out that traditionally motor sport participants have sought to influence consumer choices by winning races. “But in this competition,” he adds, “consumers are the ultimate winners because they will reap the benefits of vehicles that go farther on less fuel or energy.”

The UPS brown package car, one of the most recognized sights in America, also made an appearance at the Fontana Speedway; and yet it seemed strangely out of its element. From the outside, it looked like every other package car you have ever passed on the road, but this one was fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG), and the laps it took around the Speedway were not its first time on the road.

“This package delivery vehicle is one of 967 CNG-powered vehicles in our fleet operating in 18 cities, and, earlier this week, it was in use by one of our drivers,” offers Mike Herr, UPS corporate environmental affairs manager. Herr went on to explain that UPS has a fleet of more than 3,200 alternative fuel vehicles in North America, including the second vehicle that ran the paces at Fontana, an electric-powered van that is also in use as a Next Day Air Express vehicle.

When you realize that UPS serves 7.9 million customers a day and owns 77,000 motor-driven vehicles and almost 60,000 tractor trailer vehicles, it is obvious that finding the most fuel efficient, clean running vehicle is not only a good thing for the environment, it is also crucial to profitability. This explains UPS’s presence at this year’s event: their pioneering use of electric-powered vehicles in the 1930s and their extensive research and development program that constantly explores new ways to stretch every gallon of fuel farther. For some, the introduction of their reusable letter package seemed to be the most obvious environmental story that they had to share—who knew how deep green the Quiet Brown Giant was?

Another icon of American culture appeared out of place as well: McCloud, otherwise known as Dennis Weaver. Weaver was sponsored by his Institute of Ecolonomics and was driving a hybrid, hydrogen-powered automobile. “Now, more than ever,” he maintains, “America must move on to an energy source to support our economy that is independent of foreign supplies.” Weaver was also very enthused about a new synthetic fuel that reduces emissions to micro emissions and happy to report that two of the Big Three had invited the manufacturers of this new technology to Detroit.

On Sunday morning, the vehicles took to the open road with a 275-mile trek from Fontana to downtown Las Vegas, NV. Along the way through the arid desert and scenic mountains, participants encountered two significant grade variations. The first was a short, steep climb through the El Cajon summit; the other a long, gradual climb to 4,700 feet between Baker, CA, and Jean, NV.

On Monday, October 29, following the Michelin Challenge Bibendum and before the annual Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show, Michelin and SEMA co-hosted the “Transportation Transformation Conference: Sustainability,” a global conference on alternative fuel and green technology. Edouard Michelin and Ron Zarella, president of General Motors North America, were among the guest speakers, along with Carroll Shelby of Shelby Enterprises.

The endorsement and support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enhanced the credibility of the event and validated the time and effort Michelin has given to this worthy cause.

“For the first time in North America, we will witness on one stage the widest variety of environmental vehicles ever produced and gain a glimpse into the future of a ‘greener’ auto industry,” noted EPA Administrator Christine Whitman. “I would like to commend participants and sponsors in the event for their vision in developing and promoting environmentally friendly vehicles for current and next-generation drives.”

For more information and to see photos of the cars, visit

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