Michelin enjoying healthy demand for two-wheel products

The Pilot Road 4 undergoing wet braking tests

A year ago the latest-generation Michelin sport touring radial range was released. Since its initial introduction at the MCN Motorcycle Show in February 2014 and subsequent market launch, the Pilot Road 4 has exceeded its maker’s expectations in regards to popularity, and proved to be a highlight within a positive year for Michelin’s motorcycle tyre business. In 2015, the company plans to follow up the success of the Pilot Road 4 with further releases.

“From our point of view, demand has been good in the UK and in Europe as a whole for the Pilot Road 4,” shares Ed Wilson, Michelin’s motorcycle business commercial director for the UK, ROI, Nordics and Russian regions. He describes the fourth-generation tyre, which was voted tyre of the year for 2014 by Motorcycle News, as the “riders’ tyre of choice in the sports touring radial segment,” and speaks of the strong demand the Pilot Road 4 has enjoyed. “As commercial director, I totally underestimated the volumes of Pilot Road 4 we’d sell in 2014. Michelin needed to ramp its European production in order to meet demand.”

The Pilot Road 4 is aimed at road bikes with an engine capacity over 600cc and is available in three versions – Standard, GT and Trail. The first of these is intended for regular sport touring bikes, while the trail is oriented towards larger adventure style bikes. The GT is for more serious touring bikes with heavier than usual payloads.

Wilson also reports high pre-season demand for the Pilot Street Radial, a full-size commuter bike tyre that came to market in 2013. In fact, he says demand for Michelin two-wheeler tyres has been strong across the board. “The market has been good, it grew in 2014. Some feel-good consumer confidence is back in the UK after years of caution. We saw more riders out on the road and increased demand for product, plus particular growth in the custom market. It was a fantastic year for both the motorcycle and scooter markets.”

This growth will be further buoyed in 2015 by new off-road products, and Ed Wilson says we can expect an announcement about these towards the middle of the year. “Michelin will continue to develop a range that pushes the boundaries of technology and provides the rider with tyres that maximise durability and performance,” comments the commercial director.

In addition to unveiling the new off-road tyres later in 2015, Michelin has bolstered its off-road segment profile through signing up to the MX Nationals, a seven-class championship that caters from all levels ability through to pro level. “It’s now known as the Michelin MX Nationals,” Wilson says. “We’re offering technical support and supplying tyres to riders’ choice, with various compounds available depending on rider preference.”

Tyre supply, in various forms

This year, Michelin will also concentrate on its return to a higher-profile championship. Wilson notes that the company looks forward to once again supplying tyres to MotoGP as it believes this will accelerate innovation for its on-road products. “Michelin has learned from its Formula E engagement that you learn about three times more quickly when drawing upon lessons learned on-track compared with in the laboratory,” he elaborates. “In the area of motorcycle tyres, we’ve learned from feedback received following the move to 17-inch tyres, and this will cascade into our on-road range.” In regards to concrete preparations for the return to MotoGP, the commercial director says Michelin will continue developing and testing compounds for use on Northern European circuits throughout the course of this year; MotoGP products developed at Michelin’s Ladoux Technology Center in France have already been tested on circuits in the UK.

But Michelin’s tyre supply activities don’t just centre on providing the world’s most successful riders with the last word in rubber. In December 2014, Wheels to Work provider and registered charity, Kickstart, switched its entire fleet of 251 scooters to Michelin Pilot Street tyres with support from the manufacturer. Ed Wilson comments that the scooters, which are loaned to people who live or work in areas poorly served by public transport to help them commit to employment, were previously fitted with a Chinese brand of tyre. “Now they have less punctures,” he adds.

“We think community projects like this are the right sort of thing to be involved in,” the commercial director continues. “I am very pleased with Michelin’s association with the Kickstart charity.”

One brand – Michelin

In closing, it is worth mentioning that in recent times Michelin has indicated that its lower-tier brands, such as Tigar, Kleber and Riken, may in future be more heavily utilised in the battle for market share against Chinese tyre brands. However Wilson says there is no plan to introduce motorcycle or scooter tyre ranges into its lower-tier brand portfolios: “For moto, we have just one brand, and that brand is Michelin.” He adds that within the Michelin brand portfolio, the company strives to provide a motorcycle tyre range that offers performance and price options to suit all tastes. “We offer three such (price/performance) tiers within every range.”

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