Michelin (full name: SCA Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin) based in Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne région of France, is primarily a tyre manufacturer, the worlds largest. It is also famous for its Red and Green travel guides, for the Michelin stars that the Red Guide awards to restaurants for their cooking, for its road maps, and for its historic emblem, the Michelin Man.
The tyre manufacturing subsidiary is officially called Manufacture Française des Pneumatiques Michelin, "Michelin tyre manufacturing company of France." The company headquarters is in Clermont-Ferrand, 424 km south of Paris, France.
Michelin has made a number of innovations to tyres, including in 1946 the radial tyre (then known as the "X" tyre). It was developed with the front-wheel-drive Citroën Traction Avant and Citroën 2CV in mind. Michelin had bought the then bankrupt Citroën in the 1930s. As of August 2008, this tyre is still available for the 2CV.
In 1988, Michelin acquired the tyre and rubber manufacturing divisions of the American B.F. Goodrich Company founded in 1870. Two years later, it bought Uniroyal, Inc., founded in 1892 as the United States Rubber Company. Uniroyal Australia had already been bought by Bridgestone in 1980.
As of 1 September 2008, Michelin is again the world's largest tyre manufacturer after spending two years as number two behind Bridgestone.
The company returned to Formula One in 2001, supplying Williams, Jaguar, Benetton (renamed Renault in 2002), Prost and Minardi. Toyota joined F1 in 2002 with Michelin tyres, and McLaren also signed up with the company. Michelin tyres were initially uncompetitive but by the 2005 season were totally dominant. This was partly because the new regulations stated that tyres must last the whole race distance (and qualifying), and partly because only one top team (Ferrari) was running Bridgestones, and so had to do much of the development work. Michelin in contrast had much more testing and race data provided by the larger number of teams running their tyres.
Following the debacle of the 2005 United States Grand Prix where, because of safety concerns, Michelin would not allow the teams it supplies to race, Michelin's share price fell by 2.5% (though it recovered later the same day). On 28 June, Michelin announced that it would offer compensation to all race fans who had bought tickets for the Grand Prix. The company committed to refunding the price of all tickets for the race. Additionally, it announced that it would provide 20,000 complimentary tickets for the 2006 race to spectators who had attended the 2005 event.
Michelin has had a difficult relationship with the sport's governing body (the FIA) since around 2003, and this escalated to apparent disdain between the two parties during the 2005 season. The most high profile disagreement was at the United States Grand Prix and the acrimony afterwards. Michelin criticised the FIA's intention to move to a single source (i.e. one brand) tyre from 2008, and threatened to withdraw from the sport. In a public rebuke FIA President Max Mosley wrote "There are simple arguments for a single tyre, and if [Michelin boss Édouard Michelin] is not aware of this, he shows an almost comical lack of knowledge of modern Formula One". Another bone of contention has been the reintroduction of tyre changes during pit-stops from 2006. Michelin criticised the move claiming "this event illustrates F1's problems of incoherent decision-making and lack of transparency."
In December 2005, and as a result of the difficult relationship with the sport's governing body, Michelin announced that it would not extend its involvement in Formula One beyond the 2006 season. Bridgestone has since then been the sole supplier of tyres to Formula One.
The last race won on Michelin Tyres in Formula One was the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso benefitting after the Ferrari engine of Michael Schumacher failed during the race. This gave Michelin a second consecutive Constructors' Championship win, with the 2005 and 2006, after Bridgestone's seven-year winning streak, and brought to a total of four the number of wins for Michelin since this event's inception back in the 1958 Formula One season; Michelin's other wins were in the 1979, and 1984 seasons.
The company's symbol is Bibendum, (aka "Bib the Michelin Man", "Bibelobis", or simply the "Michelin Man"), introduced in 1898, by French artist O'Galop (a pseudonym of Marius Rossillon), and one of the world's oldest trademarks. André Michelin apparently commissioned the creation of this jolly, rotund figure after his brother, Édouard, observed that a display of stacked tyres resembled a human form. Today, Bibendum is one of the world's most recognized trademarks, representing Michelin in over 150 countries.
The 1898 poster showed him offering the toast Nunc est bibendum ("Cheers!" or "Now is the time to drink" in Latin), to his scrawny competitors with a glass full of road hazards, with the title and the tag C'est à dire: À votre santé. Le pneu Michelin boit l'obstacle ("That is to say, to your health: The Michelin tyre drinks up obstacles"). It is unclear when the word "Bibendum" came to be the name of the character himself. At the latest, it was in 1908, when Michelin commissioned Curnonsky to write a newspaper column signed "Bibendum".
The name of the plump tyre-man has entered the language to describe the appearance of someone obese or wearing comically bulky clothing: "How can I wrap up warm without looking like a Michelin Man?.
In Spain, Michelín has acquired the meaning of the "tyres", or folds of fatty skin around the waist.
Bibendum's shape has changed over the years. O'Galop's logo was based on bicycle tyres, and wore period-appropriate pince-nez glasses with lanyard, and smoked a cigar. By the 1980s, Bibendum was being shown as a running Bib, and in 1998, his 100th anniversary, a slimmed-down version became the company's new logo; his vision had improved, and he had long since given up smoking. The slimming of the logo reflected both lower-profile, smaller tyres on sport compact automobiles and a more athletic, slimmer and trimmer Bib. Bib even had a similar-looking puppy as a companion when the duo were CGI animated for recent American television advertisements.
Bibendum made a brief guest appearance in the Asterix series, as the chariot-wheel dealer in certain translations, including the English one, of Asterix in Switzerland. (The original French version used the Gaulish warrior mascot of French service-station company Antar.) The image also plays a key role in William Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition. Michelin sued the performance artist Momus for releasing a song about the trademarked Michelin Man.
French reggae band Tryo have sung about Bibendum on their album Grain De Sable. 'Monsieur Bibendum, il est vraiment énorme / Monsieur Bibendum, le bonheur en personne' - 'Mr Bibendum, he is truly enormous, Mr Bibendum; happiness in person'.