Published on July 18, 2016
(/ˈmɪʃəlɪn/ or /ˈmɪtʃəlɪn/; French pronunciation: [miʃˈlɛ̃]; full name: SCA Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin) is a French tire manufacturer based in Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne région of France. It is one of the three largest tire manufacturers in the world along with Bridgestone and Goodyear. In addition to the Michelin brand, it also owns the BFGoodrich, Kleber, Tigar, Riken, Kormoran and Uniroyal (in North America) tire brands. Michelin is also notable for its Red and Green travel guides, its roadmaps, the Michelin stars that the Red Guide awards to restaurants for their cooking, and for its company mascot Bibendum, colloquially known as the Michelin Man.
Michelin’s numerous inventions include the removable tire, the pneurail (a tire for trains made to run on rails) and the radial tire.
In 1889 two brothers, Édouard Michelin and André Michelin, ran a rubber factory in Clermont-Ferrand, France. One day, a cyclist whose pneumatic tire needed repair turned up at the factory. The tire was glued to the rim, and it took over three hours to remove and repair the tire, which then needed to be left overnight to dry. The next day, Édouard Michelin took the repaired bicycle into the factory yard to test. After only a few hundred metres, the tire failed. Despite the setback, Édouard was enthusiastic about the pneumatic tire, and he and his brother worked on creating their own version, one that did not need to be glued to the rim. Michelin was incorporated on 28 May 1889. In 1891 Michelin took out its first patent for a removable pneumatic tire which was used by Charles Terront to win the world’s first long distance cycle race, the 1891 Paris–Brest–Paris.
In 1934, Michelin introduced a tire which, if punctured, would run on a special foam lining; a design now known as a run-flat tire (self-supporting type).
Michelin developed a key innovation in tire history, the 1946 radial tire (then known as the “X” tire). It was developed with the front-wheel-drive Citroën Traction Avant and Citroën 2CV in mind. Michelin had bought the then-bankrupt Citroën in the 1930s. Because of its superiority in handling and fuel economy, use of this tire quickly spread throughout Europe and Asia. In the U.S., the outdated bias-ply tire persisted, with market share of 87% in 1967. In 1968, Consumer Reports, an influential American magazine, acknowledged the superiority of the radial construction, setting off a rapid decline in Michelin’s competitor technology. Even in the U.S., the radial tire now has a market share of 100%.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Michelin operated large rubber plantations in Vietnam. Conditions at these plantations led to the famous labour movement Phu Rieng Do.
“French Indochina – The French community of about 40,000 lived in the European quarters, – for the mass of the population the reality was forced labour – working to produce the colony’s exports of rice, tin, tea, and above all – rubber – the source of the fortune of the Michelin company.”
In 1988, Michelin acquired the tire and rubber manufacturing divisions of the American B.F. Goodrich Company founded in 1870. This included the Norwood, North Carolina manufacturing plant which supplied tires to the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. Two years later, it bought Uniroyal, Inc., founded in 1892 as the United States Rubber Company. Uniroyal Australia had already been bought by Bridgestone in 1980.
Michelin also controls 90% of Taurus Tire in Hungary, as well as Kormoran, a Polish brand.
As of 1 September 2008, Michelin is again the world’s largest tire manufacturer after spending two years as number two behind Bridgestone. Michelin produces tires in France, Spain, Germany, the USA, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Thailand, Japan, Italy and several other countries. On 15 January 2010, Michelin announced the closing of its Ota, Japan plant, which employs 380 workers and makes the Michelin X-Ice tire. Production of the X-Ice will be moved to Europe, North America, and elsewhere in Asia.
Michelin tire plant in Waterville, Nova Scotia