"Today we will go on a journey through history together, but still looking to the future. Anticipating change is what Pirelli has been doing for 150 years thanks to a solid corporate culture and its ability to be a key player. Elements that have allowed us to become a globally renowned brand": with these words, Marco Tronchetti Provera, Executive Vice President & CEO of Pirelli, summarised the meaning of the celebrations organised in Milan by Pirelli for its 150th anniversary. It was in fact January 28, 1872, when Giovanni Battista Pirelli, at the age of 23, with the support of other founding partners, created the first company in Italy to produce rubber articles: "G.B. Pirelli & C.". As prepared, determined and far-sighted as he was, perhaps not even the founder could have imagined at the time that he was about to create the first Italian multinational brand, destined to be a appreciated and respected throughout the world, and to have, after a century and a half of success, 18 production plants in 12 countries, a commercial presence in over 160 countries, a workforce of around 30,500 employees, not to mention over 6,700 patents and a turnover of over 4 billion euro.
In the beginning there were cables
The name that we have all come to associate with the world of car and motorbike tires, in reality started by producing a totally different kind of rubber item: in 1873, when the first factory in Via Ponte Seveso, Milan was opened, the company produced items for industrial applications and machines, for steam navigation and railways, such as transmission belts, valves and insulators. Within a few years, the production range expanded to consumer goods such as toys, sport items, raincoats and more. Commercially, the first advertisements were made, and a shop was opened in the centre of Milan, in Via Montenapoleone. In 1879 a decisive step for the company's expansion, the first production of electric cables: a sector dominated until then by British companies, but in which Pirelli soon established itself as a leading player in continental Europe, obtaining government orders for submarine telegraph cables – supplying the first connection between continental Italy and the islands - and the electrification of Italian railways, but also for the supply of power cables for several power plants around the world such as Niagara Falls, the Nile, Spain, Argentina, the USA and France.
From velocipedes to e-mobility
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries new means of transport began to spread, heralding the imminent revolution in mass mobility, and it was at this time that Pirelli started producing what it soon would become famous for: in 1894 the company capitalized on its knowledge of rubber and a series of innovations in the preparation of materials to launch its first tire, designed for velocipedes, while 1901 saw the birth of the Pirelli Ercole, the first car tire and an early testimony to the attention to details and ground-breaking technology that has always distinguished the company's products, inventing a system for attaching the tire to the rim and immediately applying it to car production. Pirelli's reputation in the tire sector consolidated over the next two decades, and then came an important technological breakthrough with the launch of innovative products such as the Pirelli Cord (1921), the Superflex Cord (1924) and the Stella Bianca (1927), a very popular tire in the 1930s and 1950s. These were also the years that witnessed a boom in motorbike racing: Motoguzzi, Gilera and Bianchi equipped with Pirelli Motocords set new speed records. In the Forties, more practical and economical means of transport, such as utility cars and scooters, became very popular: this was the time of the Pirelli Stelvio, which was not only the standard tire on the Topolino, but also made its mark in motor racing.
Innovation after innovation, another milestone was reached in 1951, when the Cinturato was patented (in production since 1953), a tire that featured a revolutionary, strong belt of radial fabric between the casing and the tread that guaranteed a higher degree of safety, performance and durability. In the 1960s, in order to provide the necessary grip to some of the most popular sports cars, Pirelli introduced low profile tires, and in the 1970s it launched the P7, the first HP super-low-profile tire. In the meantime, the first motorbike radial tire, the MP7, and the P8, a low resistance car radial, were also introduced.
1984 was another year to remember: Pirelli's experience in rally led to the creation of P Zero, which soon arrived on the road to equip the first extremely powerful supercars. This marked the birth of the Ultra-High-Performance family of tires, which still represents Pirelli's prowess and experience in motorsport. Another segment made its way into the 1980s, off-road tires: to promote performance on different terrains, from asphalt to sand, Pirelli created the Pirelli Scorpion, a line of premium tires designed for SUVs, which would be further expanded during the 2000s to cater for the needs of new off-road vehicles at all latitudes. P Zero, Scorpion and Cinturato are still at the heart of the range, which continues to place technology at the centre of every new development.
Two-wheel enthusiasts, on the other hand, will be familiar with the Diablo range and its sporty imprint, the Scorpion range, dedicated to the off-road world, and Angel, dedicated to sport touring bikes, all entrusted with bearing the Pirelli logo around the world. 2017 so the arrival on the market of a line of Pirelli Cycling tires for bicycles, both traditional and pedal assisted.
The last few years have seen a series of innovations introduced by Pirelli to increase safety and comfort, such as the Run Flat puncture prevention system, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year, Seal Inside, which self-repairs the tire, or PNCS (Pirelli Noise Cancelling System) technology, which dampens the noise caused by rolling tires.
The company is also taking on new challenges to support and anticipate new mobility trends, such as the transition to electric vehicles. Challenges that Pirelli is addressing with Elect: designed for new electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, offering low rolling resistance, immediate grip and noise reduction. For these new increasingly connected vehicles, Pirelli developed the Cyber Tire system, consisting of a sensor in each tire that provides the car and driver with an "identity card" and the status of the tire, and a software integrated into the car's on-board computer. Innovation is also the key to ever greater sustainability, and Pirelli's latest achievement towards ever greener production was the development of the world's first FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified tires made with raw materials from 100% sustainable supply chains.
“We sell what we race, we race what we sell”
In the 150 years of Pirelli's history, motorsport deserves a separate chapter: the fil rouge that unites the company's passion for racing with the development of products for the commercial market, anticipating the very concept of technology transfer. This union can be traced back to the Peking to Paris race in 1907, when Prince Scipione Borghese, in a Pirelli-tired Itala, covered 17,000 kilometres, winning 20 days ahead of the second placed team. A great success that transformed mobility into innovation and a show, promoting car racing as an open-air laboratory that spanned the entire 20th century in sectors as diverse as rally, GT, Formula 1 and Superbike. In 2004, in fact, Pirelli became the sole supplier for the World Superbike Championship, and the agreement, which has now been renewed until 2023, is one of the longest lasting in the history of international motorsports. The Superbike is also the source of the slogan "We sell what we race, we race what we sell", which perfectly expresses the very close bond between road and track. And how could we forget the foremost motorsport event, Formula 1, with Pirelli re-entering in 2010 with a three-year contract that was subsequently renewed and is now in force until 2024, and which will see a new fundamental technological challenge next year with the introduction of 18-inch tires - again, with a view to transferring technology to road-going vehicles. From one championship to another, today Pirelli is present in over 350 motorsport competitions.