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Michelin Branches Out

High Traction Shoes? Sunflower Tires?

by on Oct.21, 2010

Who says sunflower oil is just for cooking? Michelin is using it in its new tire line, Helios.

Anyone familiar with Bibendum, the friendly, if overweight, mascot for Michelin, the French tire giant, knows he’s made of an assortment of the maker’s tires.  But have you ever wondered what are on his feet?

Michelin is revising its line of footwear, with four new models, each equipped with slightly different high-traction rubber soles.  The reason?  More than 104 million lost work days due to slip-and-fall accidents in the workplace in North America.

Meanwhile, the maker is pushing further into sustainable technology with a new tire that makes use of sunflower oil.

Michelin’s standard shoe, called Hospitality, has a uniform sole pattern and is designed for workers who have to deal with dry, oily or wet surfaces such as auto repair shops, dealerships, or tire stores.  It’s available as either a lace-up or a slip-on.  This model is also recommended for culinary workers.

The other three styles, Light Industrial, for dry or dusty conditions, Industrial, for wet and chemical environments, and Heavy Industrial, for hazardous, abrasive and low-traction environments, are high-tops. each having a sole pattern and rubber composition suited to the job conditions.  The Light Industrial has a hardened toe box, and the Heavy Industrial model has a large toe shield over the laces for extra protection.

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Michelin says their shoes, each festooned with the Michelin logo are actually made for them by Rocky Brands.

The other new wrinkle at Michelin in the Primacy MXM4 luxury-car tire, which uses the same sunflower oil common in today’s light cooking recipes to create a new “helio” rubber compound that delivers higher performance than the outgoing Pilot tire.

Where the rubber meets the, er, sidewalk?

Michelin says that the sunflower oil additive allows the Primacy tire to deliver superior wet and snow performance with equal or better handling, ride quality, and quietness compared to the Pilot tire.

So, why would Michelin tire engineers turn to this readily available, but unusual, ingredient as a solution for tire performance?   They say that with the Primacy tire’s tread design, using sunflower oil means stopping up to two car lengths, about 19 feet, shorter in wet conditions.

By using the helio compound, made with the oil from specific types of sunflowers, Michelin says the Primacy tire increases traction at low temperatures for better braking and handling in wet conditions and has better overall performance in the snow.

Dominique Josson, product category manager, Michelin North America, says,  “Sunflower oil is particularly useful in high-performance, all-season tires because it allows the tire to maintain winter performance that might otherwise be sacrificed to gain handling and wet grip.”

In addition to the use of sunflower oil, the Primacy MXM4 offers 3-D variable thickness sipes (the grooves in the tires that expel moisture as the tire rolls) for improved handling and greater longevity.

The Primacy tire will eventually replace the Michelin Pilot MXM4 tire that has been original equipment on 425 different makes and models over the last 10 years.   The new tire has seven original equipment fitments on the road , including the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E350  and E550 sedans, the Mercedes-Benz E350  and E550 Coupe, the 2011 Infiniti M37 and M56 sedans, and the 2009 Buick Lacrosse. Michelin will offer the Primacy MXM4 in 13 replacement market sizes with rim diameters ranging from 16-inch to 19-inch.

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