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Our Man in Paris @ The 2006 Michelin Challenge Bibendum - Chapter 3

Michelin Challenge Bibendum , Day Three
By Thom Cannell
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

My third day in Paris begins with the totality of the Michelin Challenge Bibendum cars arriving from their test facility to the shadow of Paris most famous landmark, la Tour Eiffel. We take motor coaches from our hotel and it is almost quicker to walk.

Parking, we approach the “folly” as it was described during construction. All of the vehicles are there and I make a few evocative photos for the record, and then climb aboard electric-assisted bicycles.

As they are titled as bicycles, no helmet is necessary. My hat only a jaunty sunscreen. Electric assisted bicycles are becoming modes of

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transportation as congestion increases. Surely, their riders must live within a few kilometers of their destination. Priced as high as high as 2850 Euros, they are sometimes subsidized by the rider’s employers. But at approximately 5.20 euros per gallon, perhaps the payback in Euros is sufficient, as is arriving to work in a more fit condition.

Electrified bikes take some getting used to. Imagine that on the downwards pedal stroke someone or something helps pull the pedal down. Even the swiftest speed can be achieved with modest pedal effort. I have to try one on a 50-100 mile test ride upon my return.

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We return to the test track aboard the GTL (natural gas converted to liquid diesel fuel) powered Q7. With six passengers aboard it is swift, but in 90°F temperatures, surprisingly difficult to cool. We beat all but five other vehicles to the track and are easily seated for luncheon.

A surprise. While the Courreges cars are outwardly highly designed and styled, their underpinnings are surprisingly robust. Produced in California by AC Propulsion of San Dimas. Tom Gage explains the front engine design we

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are driving even as he spins the wheels. So goofy appearance does not mean a less than useful vehicle.

Tom, and Courreges vision is one of usefulness for urban compact or sub-compact cars powered by electricity from the grid. It is your second car that would take you to Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. His next project is a Scion xB with 100 kW of power and only an extra 400-500 pounds of weight, which keeps it well within chassis design parameters.

I also drive the Peugeot diesel hybrid and question them why a most expensive case hybrid (diesel and hybrid engines) makes sense. Their answer, couched in terms of CO2 emissions per kilometer, not Miles Per Gallons, further confirms the differing European Union view that greenhouse gasses are more relevant than fuel economy. They are, of course, skipping over particulate emissions. That is because Peugeot diesels have particulate filters that emit immeasurable particulates due to advanced particulate traps in the exhaust. Nobody said everything has to be invented in the United States to be useful.

My final conversation of the day is with executives from Michelin Tire Company. Yes, they did pay my way, which in no way makes their story less interesting or important. Tires, their resistance to rolling forwards in particular, account for 20% of your gasoline or diesel fuel cost. Think of it. You attempt to save $0.02 per gallon by driving across town while a visit to the nearest filling station to add air to inflate your tires to proper pressures would offer more reward. This is a tried and true message – and normally ignored. Do this it for safety, to save fuel money, to save replacement costs.

In Europe Michelin sells 66% of its tires into the “green” environment. While black, their technology is based on lower rolling resistance and therefore money-saving (fuel-saving, environment saving.) A mature technology based on supplementing carbon black with silica, it is a technology embraced in some form by every tire manufacturer. If the latest Porsche can benefit from “green” Michelin tires without sacrificing grip, what about you?

We leave the track, arrive at the hotel and after a quick shower walk through gathering Parisian dusk to dinner at le Bistro de Breteuil. We dine tapas style and discuss the day and how American attitudes differ from European, the future of modern diesel engines, where energy companies will find the necessary ethanol for upcoming changes to fuel additive requirements. Then we have crepes, crème Brule, profiteroles, and more cappuccino. Then we walk back to the hotel, for tomorrow is the final day of conferences and statistics. Driving is compete, the Challenge Bibendum for 2006 almost over.