2011 Michelin Challenge Bibendum Berlin

Rex Roy
Rex Roy Rick Dole

The Berlin Tempelhof airport: for tens of thousands fleeing Soviet communism during The Cold War, departing from this location marked the critical first step into a bold, new future of freedom.

The exciting historicity of the locale wasn't lost on Michelin, the French tire giant that organized the first Challenge Bibendum in 1998 and has held ten since. Bibendum, named for the company's mascot, is a global transportation event that is equal parts environmental policy conference, mobility science fair, global motor show, and Shark Tank audition.

Trade show-style technology displays filled Tempelhof's old hangers. Futuristic vehicles whizzed along decommissioned runways and taxiways. While never overtly expressed, organizers must have thought that Templehof could once again be a gateway to freedom; freedom from transportation-sourced pollution, dependence on fossil fuels, and road congestion.

Demographers and trend trackers predict exponential growth in vehicle ownership in developing countries such as China and India. Those in the know expect a near doubling of the world's vehicular population by 2030. This equates to nearly 1.5 billion cars and trucks crowding the world's roads in approximately 20 years.

Capitalist immediately recognize the opportunity. Environmentalists immediately recognize the danger. The French industrial giant Michelin sees both, which caused the company to dream up an event where all interested stakeholders can participate.

If you're expecting only slow and boring green cars, don't. One thing is certain; the future of driving won't have to be dull.

Exhibit A: Crafted in Monaco, the Venturi is a rolling showcase for the firm's engineering prowess. This all-wheel drive prototype uses Michelin's Active Wheel technology at each corner. With an eye toward the future, Michelin engineers developed a package that puts active suspension components (dampers and springs) and traction motors all within the circumference of each wheel. The engineering concept makes traditional suspension and powertrain components unnecessary, omissions the tiny Venturi illuminates with its design. From the rear it is especially easy to see that the exterior design is not built around traditional suspension and driveline components.

During a ride around a short handling course, the lithium-ion powered Venturi gripped like a limpet on meth. Acceleration is electric-motor strong from the moment the throttle goes down. Handling is completely flat and braking is absolutely dive-free.

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