Talking with Jean-Dominique Senard at the North American International Auto Show it’s not hard to see the passion and enthusiasm he has for the tire industry. While discussing the tire industry’s future and Michelin’s role, a smile lights Senard’s face and his movements become more energetic. It is clear that the CEO of Groupe Michelin loves what he does.
During his interview with trade press, Senard shared the North American market plays a vital role in the French tiremaker’s success and Michelin is committed to growth in the region.
“The commitment of Michelin for growth in this part of the world is huge,” he said. “In the United States notably.”
Senard noted that Michelin employs 18,500 people in the U.S., has 15 plants and has invested more than $3 billion in the region since 2011. He said the tiremaker continues to make investments in the U.S. to increase capacity and he is pleased with the marketplace. He also discussed the tiremaker’s capacity in Canada and Mexico.
“I’m truly happy with the performance of Michelin North America. If I thought differently I would tell you,” he shared.
Senard said challenges facing the tire industry now include the state of economies around the world, but the U.S. isn’t as affected.
“The good news in the U.S. it seems to be very positive in the coming few years. There are no bad signs,” he said. “The rest of the world is another story.”
Other challenges that worry Senard are keeping up changing technologies, especially autonomous vehicles and connected cars.
“I guess the concern is to be able anticipate as fast as possible this evolution,” he said. “When you are CEO of a company like Michelin you worry about how fast all of that will be able to be implemented. Honestly for me it’s a matter of pace and repetition more than anything else.”
Despite his concerns about the speed of implementation, Senard thinks future vehicle technology is positive for the tire industry.
Senard points to today’s electric vehicles as example of a tire’s importance.
“A good tire, a high performance tire, can increase dramatically the range of an electric car because it’s limited by its battery. So the tire plays a major role,” he said. “It also plays a major role in the noise. In an electric car you hear much more of the noise stemming from the tire and the road than you used to before because of the engine, so you have to have very high technology skills to reduce that noise to a minimum.”
In autonomous vehicles tires will be even more important, Senard said.
“When it comes to autonomous vehicles can you image how important the tire will be? Because the safety of people is really relies on these four tires, which on the surface of the road is really small,” he said.
“For us as a manufacturer we need to make sure that the tire is at the heart of all of this evolution,” he continued. “In the safety of the autonomous car, the tire is going to become one of the major elements of the whole piece. Let’s face it the responsibility we have in the future is much higher than it is already.”
While still in development, Senard also anticipates tires of the future talking to vehicles.
“What the tire will say to the car and to the software is absolutely essential to guide the driving say attitude of the car and behavior of the car. It will be able to say how the road is; how wet it is; how the braking system must be different,” he shared.
“For me, this evolution is just perfect. At least I know one will be able to say a tire is something that’s a commodity. It is a very highly technological item,” he finished.