AKRON-In order to elevate the qualities of premium tires in the buyer's mind, manufacturers should help dealers translate technological features into simple consumer benefits, according to Jean-Pierre L'Hermitte, vice president of Exxon Chemical Co.'s tire industry business unit. Speaking at the International Tire Exhibition and Conference in Akron, Sept. 20, Mr. L'Hermitte said the ``sophisticated design, engineering and materials technologies'' incorporated into modern tires have been a double-edged sword in the industry, creating a satisfying product that consumers now see as a commodity.
``If, in fact, the tire buyer assumes every tire he or she sees in the dealer showroom must meet certain quality standards that make all of them `good enough,' then it's logical that the only real basis for choosing one tire over another is its price,'' he said.
``(The consumer) has little appreciation for the sophisticated design, engineering and materials technologies that go into that tire, be it a standard or premium product. Without that appreciation the consumer cannot help but view all tires as commodities....''
Manufacturers and dealers must begin relating a tire's ``features'' to ``specific, tangible-and clearly understandable-benefits that are valuable to the buyer'' in order to convince consumers that a premium tire with a higher margin is worth buying over a low-end tire, Mr. L'Hermitte said.
During his presentation, Mr. L'Hermitte used Exxon's halobutyl rubber, used in some premium tire innerliners, as an example. The company claims halobutyl innerliners provide greater air retention than standard innerliners.
Consumers probably have never heard of halobutyl, so they won't be impressed if a dealer points out a tire containing the product, he said. Furthermore, consumers know all tires retain air.
Instead, dealers should explain that a tire with better air retention:
Is more durable because air is not leaked into the carcass or belt package;
Has longer tread life because inflated tires wear more evenly;
Is more convenient because it needs to be inflated fewer times; and
Is safer because it will handle better.
But that type of selling is rare, he said, noting Exxon recently surveyed Texas tire dealers to measure their awareness of halobutyl and its benefits.
Mr. L'Hermitte said 70 percent of the dealers surveyed didn't know which tires they sold contained halobutyl, and about 60 percent weren't aware of halobutyl's advantages.
Exxon since has produced a flyer explaining halobutyl's benefits complete with charts on how tread life and cornering ability are improved with proper inflation pressures.