French tire maker Michelin is looking beyond its traditional market. It has formed a partnership to take it into the suspension system business, and is seeking global supply opportunities for noise, vibration and harshness damping components. Automotive News Europe's Edmund Chew talks to Philippe Verneuil, president worldwide strategic business unit, wheels and suspension systems at Michelin.
How is the wheel business developing?
The global wheel business is stable. The European and North American original-equipment wheel markets are roughly equal at about 80 million units each. There is also a European winter wheel market of about 12 million units, principally in steel wheels.
In North America, wheel sizing already centers on 15-inch dimensions. There is growing availability of larger sizes - 16-inch wheels and above - particularly for top-of-the-range alloy fitments. In Europe, 13-inch wheels are disappearing as the market centers more on 15-inch sizes. Like North America, we are seeing more large-sized alloy wheels in Europe. In North America alloy penetration is already at or above 50 percent. In Europe it's growing toward 30 percent and is expected to reach 35 percent within a few years.
Is there a move toward outsourcing?
Currently, of about 80 million fitted passenger units, carmakers handle about 60 percent themselves. There is clearly considerable room for outsourcing. In North America, Ford has recently outsourced internal production of steel wheels. In Europe, both Ford and VW remain steel-wheel manufacturers with some 13 million wheels per year. This volume could progressively be outsourced.
How fast will tire-wheel systems be incorporated into corner modules?
We envision coordination rather than integration. Obviously all components must work together. At Michelin, we will continue our efforts to create tire-wheel systems that complement the functions of the other components.
How is Michelin's AVS (antivibration system) business developing? What's behind your links with Germany's Woco and France's Vallourec?
In Europe, Michelin is a player in suspension antivibration parts. We aim to continue supplying complete suspension systems, derived from our expertise in the vehicle field and from our knowledge of rubber.
Through our cooperation with Woco, we are currently establishing a worldwide presence to help car manufacturers pursue their platform development strategies in the field of antivibration units and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
With Vallourec, we are proposing a new rear-axle design for mini, small and lower-medium vehicles. It has a dual innovation - rubber suspension plus anti-roll device - that provides cost, mass and overall dimension gains over conventional twist-beam and trailing-arm axle solutions.
What about brake corner modules?
We see a bright future in the coordination between the complementary disciplines of brakes, antilock systems, electronic stability programs and corner modules. That's one of the advantages of Michelin's (run-flat integrated tire-wheel) Pax system. Such coordination allows us to optimize our products with respect to tire-wheel assembly.
How are you responding to new developments?
Through internal growth and by developing alliances and cooperations with the best suppliers whose expertise complements our own. For example, we are able to offer constructors a rear axle subassembly (the axle plus shock absorbers, torsion bars and antiroll bars) designed and built in partnership by Michelin and Vallourec. This offers packaging improvements and cost reductions of up to 30 percent.
What do these developments mean for your business?
The potential for change is vast. In the tire business, we are on the verge of adopting an entirely new standard that is not just a tire but also a system for improved and continued mobility - regardless of the tire's air pressure. This new system opens up new possibilities for a closer coordination of technical elements in tire-wheel-antivibration systems. It also opens up new design possibilities.
Carmakers are also forcing changes. Most want suppliers with a global supply chain and global expertise. We believe this is going to require partnerships and alliances aimed at satisfying customers' priorities and not just supplying one piece of the puzzle.