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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2003 : Cover Story

Cover Story

In His Own Words: A Dialogue with Edovard Michelin


The Challenge Bibendum started under your leadership. What was the reasoning behind your decision to create what has become the largest environmental vehicle event in the world?
Michelin: In 1998 when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Michelin Man we thought about what we could do to express the commitment of the company to its main mission, which is to help mobility. Looking back through the history of the company the founders had organized many different types of competitions and races to promote both innovation and automobiles, and we thought that now was the time to launch a challenge for the modern era centered on clean vehicles. Once the idea was expressed it became obvious that there was an opportunity for Michelin to do something that didn’t exist,
that would be a catalyst for different components of society, certainly the car companies and the fuel companies, but also the opinion leaders and governments to get together in a very dynamic mode.

How much of Michelin’s environmental stewardship stems from your own personal convictions?
Michelin: A company like Michelin with a long history and strong roots has long-standing values that stem from the founder’s vision and have grown over the
generations as the managers in the company have adapted to the times in which we live. I’m very much in synch with the convictions of the company, so it’s less about one man’s influence. The company is more important than whoever is heading the company.

You have said that the Challenge Bibendum has no commercial objectives for Michelin. Do your initiatives here translate into market share or an improvement in your bottom line—or is this a from-the-heart endeavor?
Michelin: I don’t see how this could have any impact on our sales and our bottom line. The impact is that it represents a significant commitment of talented people and resources to make it happen. In a company everything cannot be purely justified by return on investment. The economic criteria cannot be your sole indicator and judge of responsibility and performance. The definition of performance at Michelin, as in many companies, is in synch with our responsibilities to work with society, our employees, shareholders and customers. Each time you try to justify 100 percent of what you do by pure financial
criteria, you are going to miss some of your responsibilities. When we talk about corporate
responsibility, sustainable development is part of it.

The internal environmental programs within your company are extremely impressive. Do you think you are leading the tire industry in environmental stewardship? Is your leadership having an effect on the rest of the industry?

Michelin: When we look at the history of innovations in the tire industry, most have come from Michelin and we continue to do research into fuel efficiency, safety and the overall performance of our products.

Given the United States’ high percentage of energy consumption in the world, do you think that this country is doing enough to develop alternative technologies and fuels?
Michelin: Five percent of the world’s population uses 25 percent of the world’s energy. Some of that can be attributed to the U.S.’s high level of social and economic development, but there is much room for improvement here. If a magician could apply to all 68 million cars on the market in the U.S. in one second all the proven technologies—which, by the way, are not more expensive than the current practices—the results in emissions reductions would be immediate. I’m talking about diesel technologies that have a very bad reputation here, one that is not grounded in fact. They are perceived to be dirty and that may have been true 20 years ago. But diesel technologies have a huge potential in the U.S. that doesn’t require rocket science, but rather the market mechanisms, incentives and the will to develop it. Diesel has captured 40 percent of the automotive fuel market in Europe versus just one percent in the U.S.

Are you disappointed by the United States’ position on global warming?

Michelin: Everybody recognizes the challenges brought about by the imbalance between energy needs and energy supplies. The U.S., as much as Europe, Japan and China, has to figure out this challenge, with or without a strong commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and the control of greenhouse gas emissions. This is enough, I think, to motivate the efforts toward fuel efficiency and diversification of energy sources.

Do you feel there are more commonalities or more differences between the U.S., Europe and Asia in the area of environmental responsibility and progress?

Michelin: In European countries and in Japan and certainly China, there is more intervention by the government and the regulatory agencies in the field of environmental impact than in the U.S. California is probably closer to Europe, in this, than the rest of the U.S. or that’s the way it appears from my view. The challenges of mobility are not exactly the same everywhere. In Japan you have half the cars in one-twentieth of the space of the U.S., so the concentration of cars is much greater. Also, the urban structure of most cities in Europe is very different than the urban structure of large cities in North America. Urban structures in Asia are another thing; therefore the challenges are different, and maybe the solutions have to be different. The technologies that are being showcased here at the Challenge Bibendum can be applied everywhere. The mechanisms and the institutional incentives to make things happen may not need to be the same in different places, but in my view one thing is sure: pure market forces will not solve the issues we have ahead of us.

Having brought all the players together for the purpose of advancing environmentally responsible vehicles, what are your hopes for the outcome of the Challenge Bibendum?

Michelin: I think the challenges that transportation are facing are immense, both in terms of safety and environmental impacts. The speed of progress is certainly slower than one would like, so there is a real need to speed things up. This requires a good understanding of the issues and what is at stake; both the dreams and the reality of what technology can do. I think a number of misunderstandings are acting as a brake and slowing down progress. The essence of the Challenge Bibendum is to contribute to a better understanding of what is at stake and what can be done by experiencing, testing, talking and exchanging.

I read that you have six children. Are you driven by concern for your children’s futures?
Michelin: Any parent when looking at the increasing difficulties of the world has a question: in 30 or 40 years, what kind of world will I leave my children? Yet it goes beyond thinking about your own children, we must think about whether we are improving or getting worse. There are many things that are improving, but when you see a trend to the contrary, such as traffic congestion in our cities, that is a strong red flag.

The Challenge Bibendum continues to grow. What do you see in its future?

Michelin: Respect for the environment is not just something we talk about, it is something we act on. We walk the talk. From the original idea until today, the Challenge Bibendum has become a renowned event with no equivalent. Cities in both Europe and Asia have been asking for us to bring it to their city, a sign of its importance. Next year when we go to China it will be very, very interesting. Two thousand vehicles are registered per day in Beijing and no one doubts that the developmental path of mobility in China cannot
follow what has happened elsewhere. So it’s like a blank sheet of paper where the road can be drawn.

Returning to North America for the second time in its five-year history, Challenge Bibendum 2003 was centered at Infineon Raceway in the scenic Sonoma Valley of California. Infineon Raceway, home to NASCAR Winston Cup racing, the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and American Le Mans Series (ALMS), served as the proving grounds for many of the most environmentally positive vehicles in the world during the event.
Held September 23 to 25, this prestigious, international event focused on environmental and performance testing of the best technologies auto companies around the world have to offer. More than 80 vehicles took part in activities in Sacramento and on the Sonoma town square. The Challenge culminated with a rally of advanced technology vehicles from Infineon Raceway, across the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco.

For more information about Challenge Bibendum, visit www.challengebibendum.com.


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