AGOURA HILLS, Calif.-A higher incidence of problems with original equipment tires has lowered consumers' satisfaction with the products. And that spells bad news for tire manufacturers, who typically hope for repeat business from satisfied customers, according to J.D. Power and Associates.
The Agoura Hills-based research/marketing firm said results from its 1994 Original Equipment Tire Satisfaction Study, released in late July, indicate a lot more consumers may look to switch brands when the time comes to replace their OE tires.
But while tire makers may find little comfort in its findings, the report did contain some good news for independent tire dealers: They were better than new-car dealers at satisfying customers who came to them with OE tire problems.
The annual OE study examines how satisfied new car and light truck (LT) buyers are with the tires that originally came on the vehicle after they have owned it for a year. Results are based on responses from about 20,000 owners of 1993 model year vehicles.
For the first time this year, Power ranked OE brands in two categories: car/compact van tires and light truck tires.
``This year, as in past years, owners of passenger cars and compact vans report higher levels of satisfaction than do owners of light trucks,'' the report stated.
Michelin ranked as the best OE tire brand among car/compact van owners, with Goodyear a distant second. The 10 remaining brands in the category fell below the industry average. In alphabetical order, they were: BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Continental, Dunlop, Firestone, General, Pirelli, Toyo, Uniroyal and Yokohama.
In the light truck category, Bridgestone held the top spot, followed in order by BFGoodrich, Michelin, Goodyear and Firestone.
Three LT brands-Dunlop, General and Uniroyal (in alphabetical order)-fell below the industry average. Two-Toyo and Yokohama-were not ranked this year due to insufficient samples.
``Nonetheless, Yokohama earned outstanding ratings from owners of its light truck tires for the second consecutive year,'' Power said.
Among car/compact van brands, ``Pirelli's decline was especially noteworthy,'' the report said, ``since this brand has historically earned extremely high satisfaction marks from consumers.
Last year, Pirelli ranked second on a total industry basis (including both passenger and LT tires), a J.D. Power spokesman said.
``Satisfaction with one's tires is highly correlated with repurchase intent,'' the study asserted. In Pirelli's case, for example, the percentage of owners intending to repuchase the brand fell 14 points.
Overall, the industry average for customers' intent to repurchase a brand fell three points from last year, to 59 percent, the Power spokesman said. Michelin lost five points in that category (falling from 79 to 74 percent), he said; Goodyear remained the same and most other brands jockeyed up or down a few points.
Power said those statistics indicate ``fewer people plan to remain loyal when they replace their tires in the future: Not good news for tire companies who typically watch more than half of their owners defect to another brand when replacing their OE tires.''
In compiling its OE report, the Power organization used a statistically derived index system as a tool in analyzing owners' satisfaction with their OE tires.
This Tire Satisfaction Index consists of six measures-product quality, wearability, traction, safety, ride and style-each reflecting a specific component of tire satisfaction.
The firm said product quality scores were down for both the car/compact van and LT markets, indicating consumers experienced more problems and were more likely to replace their OE tires this year than last. Problem incidence increased from 16 percent on an industrywide level in 1993, to 20 percent this year.
The most significant increases in OE tire problems, the report noted, occurred in the Northeast and North Central U.S., regions that were hit with some of the heaviest snows and coldest temperatures in recent memory. So it appears the severe winter may be to blame for the lower satisfaction scores recorded by virtually all tire brands, the study said.
Of those consumers who experienced problems with their OE tires, 75 percent sought to have them serviced. Of that group, nearly half (48 percent) turned to a tire store or tire dealership. Fourteen percent went to a service station; 28 percent went back to the car dealership where they had purchased their new vehicle.
Those who went to a tire dealership or service station seeking service-usually after experiencing a road hazard, a tire with a slow leak, or both-were generally the most satisfied consumers.
Consumers who returned to their new-car dealership-often for irregular wear problems-``were more likely to be disappointed with the service they received.*.*.*,'' Power said.
``Anecdotal evidence of people turned away from a car dealer with `We don't do tires,' and the resultant frustration show through clearly in the data.''
The OE study's results echoed Power's replacement tire survey last spring, which found that independent dealerships and service stations were the crowd-pleasers when it came to customers' overall shopping experience.