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 didnt 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 Michelins 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 founders vision and have grown over the
generations as the managers in the company have adapted to the times
in which we live. Im very much in synch with the convictions
of the company, so its less about one mans 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 lineor
is this a from-the-heart endeavor?
Michelin: I dont 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
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
worlds population uses 25 percent of the worlds 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 technologieswhich,
by the way, are not more expensive than the current practicesthe
results in emissions reductions would be immediate. Im 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 doesnt 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
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
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 thats 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 childrens 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
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 its 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
For more information about Challenge Bibendum, visit www.challengebibendum.com.