Will We Ever Learn About Michelin's C3M?

After years of keeping secret a revolutionary new method of producing tires, the Michelin Group was ready to talk. The process, known as C3M, has been kept under such a tight information blackout that even the folks who worked on the program in South Carolina did so in an unmarked building and without carrying business cards (see WAW — Aug. '99, p.71).

Last spring, Michelin gave a sneak peek to financial analysts. Finally, Michelin realized it was time to spill the beans for automotive journalists, so a similar event for press was scheduled for Almeria, Spain, for the week of Sept. 18.

Little did Michelin know that terrorists would highjack four commercial jetliners and attack New York City and Washington, DC. Suddenly, for several days no one really cared much about C3M, or any other official business of the auto industry, for that matter. Events were canceled en masse, including the C3M deep dive.

This is what we DO know about C3M: It's all about flexibility. The manufacturing process makes Michelin nimble enough to produce a few thousand high-performance tires in one market, then pick up the equipment and move cross-country in a day and begin producing completely different tires immediately. Since 1997, Michelin says it's been on the road with 15 million OE and replacement C3M-made tires.

Michelin says C3M helped it capture 10% of the replacement tire market in South America in three years, starting from scratch. If Michelin had built a “traditional” plant it would have taken considerable time and expense for perhaps more capacity than was necessary. For example, Pirelli Tire North America is spending $140 million for a new tire plant in Rome, GA.

If you want to read more about C3M, be patient. We're hoping Michelin will reschedule.