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October 24, 2016

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Tennis, anyone? Michelin casts its net wider

AFTER publishing its legendary food guide for the first time in China last month, French tire maker Michelin has further deepened its tie here with lifestyle promotions. This time, its name is associated with tennis.

Since 1900, Michelin has been encouraging people to take “gourmet” journeys so that it could sell more tires. Its underlying agenda on the tennis court, though less talked about, is not as far-fetched as one might assume.

Last week, as the sponsor of Shanghai ATP World Tour Masters 1000 for a second year, Michelin set up a brand booth to showcase its tires and also shoes. At Asian’s highest-profile tennis tournament, a lot of shoe sole gets burned up. It’s a great venue to test rubber technology.

“When you drive your car, you need great contact with the ground to bring out its best performance,” said Bruno de Feraudy, president of Michelin China. “If you play against Novak Djokovic (the world’s first-ranking male tennis player), you certainly need a good pair of shoes.”

The shoes Michelin co-developed with French sports brand Babolat were displayed at the tournament. Michelin is also in a sportswear partnership with American brand Under Armour.

A good tire is about compound, structure and design. It all comes down to the grip that keeps maximum surface contact. It has been Michelin’s area of specialty for a century. It may sound important, but tires have never been particularly “cool.”

“Buying a tire is not fun at all,” de Feraudy admitted.

But seeing how a tire’s rubber technology can help athletes achieve their very best is a much more enjoyable experience for consumers. And the spirit of conquest on the tennis court is just what Michelin has done for motorsport.

It has a “racetrack to street” philosophy for its tire research and development. The feedback from professional players can help to improve products for the public, said de Feraudy.

But Michelin hasn’t signed up any pro athletes to represent its co-developed sportswear. Together with namesake food guides and road maps, that endeavor belongs to a business unit called Michelin Experience.

Emerging as the fourth key driving force of the Michelin group — after tires, the auto aftermarket and new technology development — Michelin Experience recently burrowed into the China market for the first time. In the world’s largest auto market, the aim is to create consumer emotions for Michelin beyond interest in any specific product.

That’s to say, when you “make a move,” you should be thinking Michelin.


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