Group Michelin's Challenge Bibendum began six years ago as the tire maker's corporate centennial celebration but has developed into an almost annual showcase for sustainable mobility-transportation that makes more efficient (and less polluting) use of fossil fuels and encourages the development of renewable energy sources.
Every year, Michelin is up front about the fact some 20 percent of the fuel burned in a typical car is used just to overcome the rolling resistance of the vehicle's four tires. While auto makers work to make their engines more efficient, tire companies develop technologies to make their products roll more easily.
Challenge Bibendum began in 1998 with a rally of advanced technology vehicles from Michelin's headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, France, to the Champs Elysees in Paris. The event was so successful it was repeated in 2000.
Challenge Bibendum became an international event in 2001 when testing was done at California Speedway and the rally went from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The Grand Prix racing circuit at Hockenheim, Germany, was the site for the 2002 event, when the rally went from Heidelberg, Germany, to Paris. Last year it was held in northern California, with the rally traveling over the Golden Gate Bridge.
This year, Challenge Bibendum made its Asian debut in China, where testing was conducted at the new Shanghai International Circuit-just a few weeks earlier the site of the first Chinese Grand Prix.
In addition to judging technology under competitive conditions, the Challenge includes seminars bringing manufacturers, engineers, scientists, government officials and others together to examine subjects ranging from refueling infrastructure to highway safety. But the focus is on the ongoing development of ``cleaner'' technology.
``At the first Challenge Bibendum, we had one fuel cell car,'' said Edouard Michelin, managing partner of Group Michelin. Actually, he added, the Mercedes-Benz Necar I was more of a small bus than a passenger car because the fuel cell needed to generate the electricity to power it was a nearly bus-sized unit.
Mr. Michelin added that the vehicle's cramped cockpit was more like something you might find in a rocket ship than in a passenger car.
This year 10 fuel cell cars took part and, he noted, they were real cars-and small cars-such as Mercedes-Benz' compact A-Class, with regular passenger compartments and compact power units.
Mr. Michelin offered yet another example of the progress made since the first Challenge Bibendum: ``We had the pre-production prototype for the Toyota Prius,'' he recalled.
Today, Toyota can't keep up with the demand for its gas-electric hybrid and other auto makers, such as Honda (Civic and Accord) and Ford (Escape) also have hybrids in their showrooms.