Michelin is investing $175 million at several plants. An earlier version of this story misstated the number of plants getting investment.
Michelin intends to convert its global tire-making operations to a greener business in the next three decades, with a major environment initiative: All of its tires will be manufactured using 80 percent sustainable materials by the year 2048.
That will require a significant transformation in the company's production systems, design and supply chains, Alexis Garcin, chairman of Michelin North America, acknowledged to Automotive News. But the company believes it already knows most of the materials and processes it needs to get the job done.
But 100 percent sustainable materials? That is still a quest to be determined, Garcin said.
"We don't know today how to get completely to 100 percent," he said. "We need time because we think the innovation and technology is not ready to support that. We still have some unknowns.
"But we have part of that answer. We know there will be 20 percent that will have difficulties, which is why we say 80 percent. And in the next 10 years we'll know whether we're on the right track."
Garcin discussed Michelin's sustainability plans and its efforts to steer its operations and 20,000 U.S. employees through the pandemic on Wednesday via Q'd Up Mobility, a series of Web presentations hosted by the North American International Auto Show to showcase industry executives and ideas.
Michelin has been pursuing greener tires since the early 1990s, when it introduced its first low rolling-resistance tire, a product designed to help boost fuel economy by reducing road friction.
The company, which has its North American headquarters in Greenville, S.C., also introduced an airless tire that could extend the life span of vehicle tires by making them impervious to air loss. Michelin also has been devoting more resources to developing tires for electric and autonomous vehicles, Garcin said. It recently announced that it is investing $175 million in new tooling at several plants in South Carolina to prepare for new technologies in tires, including those for EVs.
Michelin has pledged to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from all of its production facilities by half by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. It has also declared that its tires will be 20 percent more energy efficient in 2030 than they were in 2010.