Bibendum also known as the Michelin Man Copyright Harold Cunningham, Getty Images

Bibendum, also known as the Michelin Man

Michelin Talks Mobility Innovation at the Edge

"If we do not embrace the change … others will and bypass us."

When it comes to mobility innovation, staying in your comfort zone is no place to be.

That's one of the key takeaways presented by Michelin North America's David Stafford during a keynote presentation Tuesday at the International Tire Exhibition and Conference, underway in Akron, Ohio.

"If we do not embrace the change … others will and bypass us," said the executive vice president of personnel and chief human resources officer.

Specifically, he told tire industry professionals they need to be collaborating – now -- with companies that are "working at the edge," or even beyond the edge.

For instance, are they working with the Teslas, the General Motors and the host of other automakers committed to the electric car market? Tire professionals should be engaged, not only because electric vehicles will change the world, Stafford says, but because they will change how tire manufacturers interact with that world.

Stafford, who also has a long history in Michelin research and development, pointed out several focus areas:

  • Noise dampening, due to the extreme quiet of electric vehicles.
  • Tire impact on electric car range.
  • Instantaneous torque and its impact on tread wear.

And then there's Formula E, a fully electric racing series. Michelin has been developing tires for this series.

Self-driving and Connected Cars

Beyond electric vehicles are connected vehicles, including driverless cars, which present additional innovation challenges to tire makers, Stafford said. For example, if car occupants are no longer at the wheel of a self-driving car, perhaps handling becomes a less important consideration for them. What, then, becomes more important and what does that mean for tire manufacturers?

Furthermore, what kind of data will "smart" tires be able to collect, and with whom do they share the information? Tread life with vehicle owners? Road conditions with other tires? Stafford said these are the types of innovation conversations going on now.

The Michelin executive then flashed on-screen a picture of KITT, the car from the early 1980s series Knight Rider. For the unfamiliar, KITT was an advanced, artificially intelligent and self-aware car that ably assisted crime fighter Michael Knight. Remember this? Stafford asked.

"KITT was before its time."

Innovation, More Broadly Speaking

Stafford advised attendees not to limit their innovation efforts to product development. Service innovation is where new opportunity lies, he stated.

Stafford again gave a nod to the past, pointing to the Michelin Guide, guide books initially developed for French motorists and today widely known for awarding stars to restaurants for fine dining. Those guides were developed initially to encourage people to drive more, ultimately helping the company sell more tires. It was another idea ahead of its time, Stafford said.

"If you're not innovating the product and service, you're falling behind," Stafford emphasized. "And you must embrace innovation in the broader sense."

Stafford concluded his talk as he began it: talking about people. The mobility conversation doesn't start with technology, it begins with people, he said. "It's about serving the world through mobility."

The chief human resources officer touched briefly on the workforce of the future. The days are gone when a high school diploma will get you a good manufacturing job, he said. Moreover, given the growing variety of needs that manufacturers must address, to succeed at innovation "we must think differently about people," Stafford concluded.

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