AKRON-You might call it the ``X'' radial for ``Generation X.'' Michelin Americas Small Tires has redesigned its basic H-rated, all-season performance radial, the XGT H4, added more sizes and refocused its marketing effort to appeal specifically to young-adult owners of ``sporty'' cars-ones that came with H-rated tires as original equipment.
That's a market segment in which the Michelin brand could be doing better, MAST officials admitted-due in part to a perception that Michelins were priced out of reach. The line, they said, also lacked a full range of sizes.
With the redesigned XGT H4, Michelin is out to change the situation. ``With this tire we're going after a consumer that has not been a typical Michelin consumer,'' said Drew Banas, brand manager, Michelin brand marketing.
According to Karen Brubaker, product manager for Michelin performance tires, another way to characterize this segment is the ``unsuspecting high performance tire'' customers. She described them as younger, upwardly mobile consumers who purchased sporty cars (with H-rated OE tires) because they liked their styling and performance, but who don't really know a whole lot about them, including the critical link between tires and handling.
To reach this audience, MAST is adopting a lifestyle-oriented approach, Ms. Brubaker said, marketing the XGT H4 as a means of restoring the driving excitement these sporty cars had when new.
Hence the campaign slogan, employed in all point-of-sale materials and co-op advertisements: ``Michelin XGT H4-For a whole new relationship with your car.''
As the company's launch presentation brochure for dealers points out, when these customers enter a dealership, what they need may be a new set of tires, ``but what they really want is that thrill they used to get from just owning and driving their cars.''
As a further inducement to these twenty-somethings to try Michelins, MAST is offering a money-back guarantee to buyers who purchase a set of four redesigned XGT H4s between their April 1 introduction and Sept. 30.
A customer who is not satisfied with the tires can return them within 30 days or 1,000 miles of purchase, whichever comes first, for a free replacement or full refund, including any charges for mounting and balancing.
For dealers, MAST is supplying complete point-of-sale kits and co-op ad materials, including camera-ready print ads and radio scripts. During April and May, the company will raise the normal 80-percent co-op reimbursement to 100 percent for XGT H4 ads.
In terms of pricing, the XGT H4 should be priced to dealers at levels at or below those of competing tires, such as the Goodyear GT+4, Mr. Banas said.
MAST will make the redesigned tire available to all its aftermarket distribution channels, he said. The company expects most independent dealers to offer the XGT H4, but Mr. Banas said he is less certain about others channels, such as mass merchandisers.
With the new version of the XGT H4, Michelin said it has completed a comprehensive redesign of its high performance tires, involving six lines in two years.
In the case of the XGT H4, this redesign includes a new tread design, reorienting Michelin's trademark triangular tread elements to which sipes have been added, and adding ``variable compliance grooves'' near the shoulder. These grooves stay open on wet roads to channel water, but close during heavy cornering on dry roads to stabilize the tread, MAST said.
The tire also employs a new-generation polymer in the tread compound that eliminates the trade-off between snow and wet traction, the company said.
The result is a tire that outperforms its predecessor in the key areas of tread wear, wet handling and dry handling, said Mike Wischhusen, manager of product engineering.
MAST also has added eight sizes to the line for a total of 18, covering some 85 percent of all H-rated all-season replacement sizes.