Imagine a job based on nothing but feelings and sensations… Cédric Amplement is tasked with an extremely rare mission: he is a subjective test driver at Michelin, a unique and highly versatile job. You are listening to Big Story.
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Cédric Amplement, subjective test driver at Michelin
There are only two subjective test drivers specialising in trucks at Michelin! Cédric says his job is like the holy grail for drivers. But the first thing that needs explaining is what it actually means to be a subjective test driver? “It means we rely on our sensations and impressions rather than measuring tools when trying out new tyres”.
Cédric works mostly at the Michelin Technology Centre in Ladoux, near Clermont-Ferrand in France. This is where Michelin’s historic headquarters are located. The company has a 500-hectare testing centre there... with about 50km of tracks. But Cédric also travels for work, for example to northern Finland to conduct tests on ice and snow or to the Michelin centre in Almeria in Spain. He also travels to manufacturers’ facilities when the company rents out his services.
Becoming a subjective test driver
How does one become a subjective test driver? After a career in the military, Cédric joined Michelin in 2005. He occupied various technical and testing functions, always specialised in trucks. “And two years ago, because I had all the necessary skills, I was offered the job as a subjective test driver to replace someone who left. Our job is to participate in the development of new products: every new type of tyre must be tested internally.”
To do that, you have objective and subjective test drivers. Objective testers conduct specific manoeuvres repeatedly with measuring equipment on board. This is a necessary step so that every tyre model can be approved for regulatory compliance. “As for us subjective drivers, our job is to put ourselves in the user’s shoes. We check things like adherence and balance, for example by driving in circles on a wet track. But we also record highly subjective notions such as acoustic comfort.”
In their reports, they indicate what they felt - whether they noticed something unusual - even inner ear sensations. These observations are then used to exchange with the engineering team about improvements or modifications.
A highly versatile position
Because subjective testing is so specific, Cédric and his colleague establish their own testing protocols. They propose relevant manoeuvres with a list of criteria to check and targets to meet. “We work on improving existing tyres, but we also test prototypes, like the ones being developed for hydrogen and electric vehicles. This means we always have to use lots of different vehicles.”
That’s one of the fun things about his job, he says. For example, he got to drive military prototypes worth millions, but also cranes, 4x4s, tankers, and trucks of all sizes. “All vehicles over 3.5 tons fall under our jurisdiction. We’re like the Swiss army knives of test drivers. We have to manage everything ourselves: design methodologies, conducting the tests, renting or buying new vehicles as often as we can, etc.…”
Accompanying the evolution of tyres
Testing tyres can seem like a repetitive job. But it is, in fact, constantly changing because tyres are evolving fast, especially with the rise of alternative energy propulsion. For electric and hydrogen vehicles, reduced rolling resistance means additional battery life. Tyre performance is more crucial than ever! Another factor is that batteries are very heavy, which changes things when it comes to tyre pressure and wear.
Summing up what his job is all about, Cédric says that a test driver is very different from being a racing pilot. “We don’t race against each other, we share knowledge. We are sometimes compared to œnologists, because we’re experts on the specificities of tyres”!
*Interview by Cédric Amplement, on 8 June 2021