Way back in 1900, brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin launched a hotel and restaurant guide so that French motorists would have places to go. France then had fewer than 3,000 cars and the Michelin brothers believed, quite correctly as it turned out, that a restaurant guide might boost the usage of cars and thereby the usage of the tyres their company manufactured. The annual Michelin guide has since evolved into a powerful institution and its star ratings are akin to the Oscars for chefs and restaurants the world over. Meanwhile, the 135 year old tyre company itself has stayed on the fast track and with an annual turnover of 20 billion euro, it is ranked second in the global tyre sweepstakes, after Bridgestone of Japan. Michelin remains as forward thinking as it was when it launched its restaurant guides but this time around, its mission is not about expanding the use of its tyres but reducing it. CEO Jean-Dominique Senard has committed the company to the path of sustainable mobility, and if this means fewer private cars and more public transport, so be it. In an exclusive interview with Corporate Dossier, Senard, who happens to be Michelin\'s first non-family CEO, talks about his India plans, eliminating tradeoffs and the tyre\'s relationship with global warming. Edited excerpts:
Michelin is recognised more for its restaurant ratings than its tyres in India. Comment? People don\'t buy tyres every day, so it\'s okay with me to have the brand remembered at other times for restaurants. But Michelin is one of the best known brands in the world and I am sure it will soon be famous in India as well. We have recently commissioned a plant in Chennai for making truck tyres and we are starting a development centre in Gurgaon, for which we have hired engineers who are being trained in our facilities in Europe. We are happy to rely on the skills of Indian engineers to develop products not just for India, but for the world. We have Dr RA Mashelkar on our advisory board to help us do this. Why has your entry into India been so delayed? I regret that, but we could not be everywhere at the same time. The emerging markets are important to our growth strategy and we have been investing in Brazil, Indonesia and China. We entered India through a joint venture with Apollo Tyres, which imported Michelin tyres for the Indian market. It gave us experience and we realised it is a very tough market with strong local players. Another factor is infrastructure. Performance is very important to us and tyres made for other markets do not perform well on Indian roads.
Would you rather not make low-end tyres required in emerging markets? Not at all. Michelin makes tyres for every kind of transport, from bicycles and tractors to cars and airplanes. If a customer wants something, we can\'t say \'no.\' Some customers will pay a premium for higher performance while others may not need this level of performance. Most of the development work is actually happening in this tier II market. For example, the tyres we make in Chennai are thicker and more robust, but this increases fuel consumption. It is a trade-off we have been eliminating with new rubber polymers. Approximately 20 per cent of the fuel in a car goes to keeping the wheels turning. In India, we sell by convincing the customer that our tyres consume less fuel. We are also very much in tune with the way India recycles and re-uses tyres.