At least one tire maker agrees.
Group Michelin is bankrolling efforts to produce fuel cells, an electrochemical cell that converts fuel, often hydrogen, into energy that powers the vehicle.
The push into fuel-cell technology is part of a three-pronged growth strategy, according to a report released April 8 by the French tire maker, in order to diversify and — perish the thought for our industry — lessen its dependence on tires.
That's right: The world's No. 1 tire maker is looking to diversify outside of the product that has made it a global giant.
Michelin also has said that 3D printing and composite materials are two other important revenue drivers for the company going forward. By 2030, the company said its goal is for non-tires to account for between 20% and 30% of overall sales.
Today, that number stands at under 5%.
Fuel cells could be a big part of that increase.
Michelin laid the groundwork for this two years ago when it formed a 50/50 joint venture with Faurecia Group, a leading French automotive systems supplier, to develop, produce and market hydrogen fuel-cell systems for light vehicles, utility vehicles, trucks and other applications.
The companies said at the time they are convinced of the importance of hydrogen technology in the emerging field of zero-emissions mobility, as well as the need to create a strong European hydrogen industrial sector.
In 2020, Michelin reported it had $350 million in sales from fuel cells. By 2025, it expects that number to climb to $1.6 billion, and by 2030, grow that to $7.8 billion.
Valerie Bouillon-Delporte, Michelin's hydrogen ecosystem director, told Bloomberg News that the JV will produce fuel cells for a range of cargo vans produced by Stellantis N.V., an Amsterdam-based auto maker formed by the 2021 merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and French company Groupe PSA.
"Auto and parts makers are increasingly focusing on hydrogen and that's positive," Ms. Bouillon-Delporte told Bloomberg News. "The market is starting to put down a solid base."
The public, however, has not rallied around the vehicles, at least according to sales figures. Bloomberg reports that fewer than 2,400 hydrogen vehicles were sold last year, compared with over 825,000 hybrids and electric vehicles.
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by KPMG, "Place Your Billion-Dollar Bets Wisely," predicts that the global auto market will feature a "mosaic" of vehicle types over the next 20 years: battery, hydrogen, hybrid and even internal combustion engines.
On one hand, hydrogen makes the most sense: experts say hydrogen-powered vehicles are quiet, have quick charging times, burn cleanly and offer longer ranges that typical EVs.
On the other hand, there are few refilling stations in the U.S., and perhaps most importantly, those vehicles can be up to twice as expensive as a comparable EV or hybrid.
Perhaps with Michelin's might behind it, hydrogen vehicles will become the dominant propulsion system in the next two decades.
In the meantime, as my dad would often say to slap me back to reality: "Don't forget your day job."
Those gas-powered cars that come into shops needing tires and brakes will remain the lifeblood of our industry at least until my newly born granddaughter — Molly Lorene Fenn was born on March 30, the day before her grandmother's birthday — becomes old enough to drive.
Meanwhile, I'll keep searching for that 1980 Pacer.