As far as the average motorist is concerned, the pneumatic tire is nothing more than a round, black doughnut requiring little attention-just a part of the car. That may explain the ``sticker shock'' many customers experience when they have to purchase expensive, high performance replacement tires. And it's that inability or unwillingness to invest the required ``megabucks'' in more expensive tires that may make many consumers of high performance tires potential retread customers.
Despite the fact that nine out of 10 buyers put safety at the top of the list when they sally forth to find a vehicle, they don't know-or even seem to care-about the safety characteristics of today's tires.
Like the automobile, the tire started off as a simple product. We now have high performance, speed-rated, touring, rain, mud/snow, all-season, self-sealing and unidirectional tires.
Along with tire design changes, we have seen radical changes in automobile construction as well. Front-wheel-drive for most cars has become the order of the day. And with front-wheel-drive, permitting lighter, faster and more sensitive vehicles, the tire has become more of a fundamental element influencing performance.
Safety has become one of the chief elements behind the push for high technology in automobiles. In fact, the average automobile being produced today probably has enough computing power to run a small business.
Even so, there is no other vehicle component that has seen more development and use of high technology over the past couple of decades than tires.
The correct type, size, balance and especially alignment of tires has become essential not only to satisfy the requirements of the customer but also in the context of highway safety.
It was not all that long ago that tire sizes were simple and clear so it was easy to be a tire dealer. Even the motorist didn't appreciate the importance of his tires in relation to vehicle performance. Since little specialization was required, service costs were low.
Moreover, tires with limited tread life, plus more vehicles on the road and increasing annual mileages per car created plenty of business with lots of repeat sales.
But the introduction of the radial tire by Michelin changed all that. With this change came longer tire life, a better ride, better traction and better fuel economy.
All tires are not created equal. While they are all round, we know that some are rounder than others. And while many tires may have performance in their name, it's often just a pseudonym because there are no industry standards dictating the specifications of high performance tires.
Most motorists with cars equipped with performance tires know little about the capabilities of these tires and most are going to rely on the specialist to direct them in making the proper replacement purchase.
Aside from specialized selling, the tire specialist must also provide adequate technical service to support the products he sells. Thus, if selling has become more complicated over the years, then the qualified assistance needed to fully service his products has taken on new dimensions unthought of only a short time ago.
Unlike the production of retreads, which involves only the producer and the product, service involves a consumer. The difference is often ignored when the customer's time is treated as a cost-free good in the same careless way we used to treat our precious air and water.
Service technicians often have inadequate skills and poor motivation and the needs of the customer frequently are disregarded. Better training can quickly pay for itself, and greater incentives and prestige can further lift performance.
Here are a number of points to remember when discussing high performance tires with customers:
A performance tire is not necessarily a high-speed tire. In fact, some high-speed features may actually detract from handling.
In a performance tire, the emphasis is placed on enhanced maneuverability. It may even be said that a tire's performance is three dimensional: vertically it supplies comfort; laterally it provides vehicle control and longitudinally it supplies acceleration and braking.
Keep in mind that speed ratings apply only to the tire, not to the vehicle. If you mount a speed-rated tire on an old clunker it doesn't mean you can now operate the car at the tire's rated speed.
When tires with different speed ratings are mounted on the same car, the tire with the lowest rating will limit the permissible vehicle speed.
It is possible, because of high replacement tire costs and the lack of competition in the marketplace, that retreading high performance tires can add profits.
But, like passenger retreading in general, it is questionable if a market exists for the retreading of performance tires.
This market should be researched carefully before investing in additional curing equipment.
If you do have a market, go for it. But also keep in mind that once the original tread is replaced with a new tread, that tire's speed rating no longer exists.