What comes to your mind when you hear the word – Tyre, Tire or Wheel depending on which part of the globe you are reading this article? The image would be a black compound stuck on a vehicle. But, if you are told to name a brand that is associated with the word Tyre, then your first answer most probably would-be Michelin.
Michelin is world’s biggest tyre company in all terms, be it market share, volume or products. The French brand is known to make the best tyres for a wide range of automobiles, right from Bicycles to Aircraft & Space Shuttles.
While running a rubber factory in 1889, two brothers, Édouard Michelin and André Michelin, had a cyclist on their doorstep with a damaged pneumatic tyre. After spending hours trying to patch the tyre, which was stuck to the wheel of the bicycle, there was a spark of idea. What if the brothers could make a removable tyre? They successfully managed to do convert that idea from their mind and finally in 1891, Michelin submitted its first patent for a removable pneumatic tyre.
These Michelin tires were used by Charles Terront to win the world’s first long-distance cycle race, Paris-Brest-Paris.
After this, the brand continued to grow and innovate the space. In 1898 they introduced the world to Bibendum, known widely as The Michelin Man and over the years, as a centrepiece to Michelin’s marketing Bibendum has gone through many transformations.
Fun Fact – Why is the Michelin man white in colour? Because the natural rubber is white in colour. It gets the black colour from the carbon that is added during the manufacturing process.
Michelin was known for its innovation and technology since its inception. It was Michelin who introduced a tyre in the year 1934 which, if punctured, would run on a special foam lining, a design now known as a run-flat tyre (self-supporting type) and used in most of the high-end luxury and performance vehicles.
Michelin invented and patented a crucial invention in the history of tyre, the 1946 radial tyre, and successfully used this technical innovation to become one of the world's largest tyre manufactures.
Michelin did even enter into the automotive space with mainstream manufacturing when they acquired the debt-ridden Citroen. Citroen products were used to test the tyre technology.
The radial tyre, for example was developed with the front-wheel-drive Citroën Traction Avant and Citroën 2CV in mind. Because of its superiority in handling and fuel economy, use of this tyre quickly spread throughout Europe and Asia.
Michelin purchased the tyre and rubber production divisions of the American B.F. Goodrich Company, founded in 1870, in 1988. This included the Norwood, North Carolina manufacturing plant that sold tyres to the U.S. The Space Shuttle Programme. Two years later, Uniroyal, Inc., established in 1892 as the United States Rubber Company, was purchased.
Michelin was very actively involved in the world of motorsports in almost all the formats, right from their first innovation.
Michelin took part in MotoGP from 1972 to 2008. Radial construction tyres were introduced in MotoGP during the 1984 season, and multi-component tyres were introduced in 1994. In 36 years, they won 360 wins, and from 1993 to 2006, the World Championship went to many Michelin riders. Michelin returned to MotoGP in 2016 as official tyre supplier after Bridgestone's withdrawal from the series at the end of 2015.
Michelin first competed in the 1977 Formula One season, when Renault started development of their turbocharged F1 car. Michelin stepped in and introduced their highly regarded radial tyre technology to Formula One and won the Formula One Drivers' Championship with Brabham and McLaren, before withdrawing at the end of 1984. It again stepped in the F1 world in 2001, but this time the stint was ended early in 2005, during the 2005 United States Grand Prix.
Michelin was also involved in endurance events such as the decorated 24 Hours of Le Mans and the American Le Mans Series. Involvement in Le Mans started with the supply of tyres for the winner of the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours of 1923, as well as nine other 33 entrants.
Michelin is actively involved in WRC, WDC and a lot more championships in different cadres.
In today’s time, Michelin is the world’s biggest tyre manufacturer and a sponsor of many motorsport as well as automobile events across the globe.
Off-lately Michelin is facing a lot of issues regarding supplies all-over the globe and also, their quality control has taken a hit due to multiple manufacturing units failing in QC. I recently was in the market to change the set of tyres on my car and the first choice was Michelin’s Primacy 4 ST, these sit between the economy oriented XM2+ and the performance-oriented Pilot Sport series. I checked for this particular set across all the Michelin dealers pan-India and then came to know that Michelin India is suffering supply chain issues and practically has ZERO stock in India as of now. I even had a talk with Michelin India’s Vice President, Operations and he too replied reluctantly that he wouldn’t be able to help. After the whole fiasco, I changed to Yokohama, but any day my preference would have been Michelin.
As of today, Michelin owns a Uniroyal-Goodrich, Bookatable, Camso, BFGoodrich Kleber tyres and a few more brands in their brand portfolio.