Against a global backdrop of increasingly scarce raw materials, pollution choking our urban centres and severe weather patterns attributed to global warming, we are faced with a massive mandate to ensure how we act today does not destroy tomorrow. The focus on sustainable mobility thus, becomes vital in ensuring the continued transportation of persons and goods while guaranteeing long-term social and economic development, with respect for the environment and public health. Michelin's contribution to better mobility has a history dating back to the 1900s. Progressing from developing the first removable tyre to introducing air-filled tyres, to developing road signs and guides in France, Michelin's biggest game-changing contribution came in 1946 when it patented and introduced Radial Technology in tyres. Radialisation was an idea developed through the years and engineered by innovators at Michelin who conducted experiments in rolling resistance and heat build-up. Way back in 1949, three years into the development of 185-400 SP (which was what the first radial tyre by Michelin was called), it was renamed the Michelin X and put into volume production for general public. Radial technology from the house of Michelin came as a fresh wave of technological prowess in the tyre industry with greater offerings such as improved robustness, longevity, safety of tyres by reducing rolling resistance and enabling lesser consumption of fuels. This radial push was further strengthened in 1952 when radialisation entered the commercial vehicle segment and the first radial tyres for trucks were produced by Michelin. After Bristol 404 became the first British-designed car to use Michelin X radial tyre as standard equipment, radialisation rapidly grew in regions of Europe and America and its adoption was exceptionally phenomenal in the passenger car segment.
The developments in automobile engineering, road infrastructure, changing policies by governments around the globe, rising cost of fuel and the benefits provided by radial technology were the primary reasons for its widespread popularity. Radial technology which was an improvement in areas of grip, feedback and durability, also influenced other aspects of automobile designing. The rate of radialisation today stands at 65 per cent globally with countries like Brazil and China leading the radial growth with 74 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. Today, radial technology broadly exists in two forms, the tubed radial tyre and the more recent tubeless radial technology. In India, radialisation continues its rapid pace of evolution, but is still lagging behind globally. Where for cars and bikes, the technology is ubiquitous and approaching the hundred per cent radialisation mark, the rate of radial adoption in the truck and bus market is only at about 20 per cent today.
India's vast geographic spread with varied road infrastructure and mixed terrain are reasons why radialisation adoption has been relatively slower compared to the global rate. In addition, the practice of running overloaded vehicles that quickly deteriorates road surfaces and sets back infrastructure development is still prevalent. With increased enforcement of the law against overloading, as well as the growing professionalism and efficiency of the transportation business, key obstacles that today block the benefits of radialisation being fully enjoyed in India, should start to diminish.
Despite issues, there is however evidence of accelerating radial adoption in the truck and bus industry, in line with the infrastructure improvements being made. Commercial vehicles in India being introduced today are also bigger, heavier, and faster. Predictions are that radial tyres for commercial and goods vehicles will within five years be more used than nylon or bias tyres. However, the challenge for India is also how quickly it can move towards tubeless radial technology. India, while warming to radialisation, is still constrained in its move towards the more efficient tubeless radial technology due to various factors, which include the evolution of its commercial vehicles as well as a possible entrenched perception that having two layers within a tyre (the tyre and the inner tube) is somehow more robust than a single tubeless tyre.
The spirit that guides innovation at Michelin is the demonstrative capacity for improvement and the capability to show that road transport has a bright future serving society's needs. We can and must reduce the gap between the scope of the challenges we face - energy, environmental and safety issues, as well as universal access to efficient mobility solutions. The future of the automotive industry will depend on how mobility is sustained for its entire ecosystem.
The author is Managing Director at
Michelin India Tyre.