SAN DIEGO-``Energy is power,'' Michelin Americas Small Tires reminded attendees at its annual dealer meeting Jan. 27-30. And MAST officials vowed to put plenty of cranking power into the company's multi-brand tire operations during the months to come. Highlights of the San Diego gathering included:
A new marketing program designed to increase dealer profitability and competitiveness;
An updated logo for the Uniroyal brand incorporating the brand's Tiger Paw mascot; plus,
Several new product offerings, including a replacement market version of Michelin's fuel-saving XSE radial, a new winter radial that won't lose traction as its tread wears away and the industry's first DOT-certified, radial drag racing tire.
The meeting brought together more than 800 Michelin-, BFGoodrich- and Uniroyal-brand dealers for an update on MAST's business activities and an opportunity to explore San Diego's well-known tourist attractions.
The conference was topped off by a Super Bowl party, Jan. 29, attended by more than 1,000, including 200 MAST salespeople who joined dealers in viewing pro football's biggest game of the year.
Those taking part in the conference's business sessions received updated information on MAST's new ``Alliance'' marketing program, intended to improve the profitability and increase the competitiveness of the company's small-to-medium-sized independent tire dealerships.
Efforts to develop the firm's new marketing approach were first disclosed in the Dec. 12 issue of TIRE BUSINESS in an exclusive interview with Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Greenville, S.C.-based Michelin North America, MAST's parent company.
Many details of the program are still confidential. However, conference attendees learned that the Alliance program currently is being tested at retail outlets in New Orleans, Pittsburgh and San Jose, Calif. It will be expanded nationally once testing is completed and all its details are finalized, speakers at the meeting said.
David Schaub, president and chief operating officer of Michelin Americas Small Tires, said the new program will be particularly helpful to smaller dealerships struggling in today's highly competitive business climate.
``This plan will form strategic alliances between MAST and our valued customers that will change the way we do business,'' Mr. Schaub said.
He explained that the Alliance program will focus on answering the specific needs of dealers in regional and local markets ``instead of trying to force-fit a national plan that takes the one-size-fits-all approach.''
``We're going to do this by helping you build a product matrix that gives you the right tire for every price point in your market. And that includes market exclusivity for some of our lines,'' he told dealers.
Nevertheless, this won't mean that MAST will stop marketing tires through discount clubs, massmerchandisers or large dealer channels, said Mr. Schaub, who called those large-volume retail outlets an ``important and...definite part of our distribution strategy.''
He assured dealers their questions will be answered as the program unfolds.
Mr. Schaub said MAST has no firm timetable for taking the program nationwide. ``...It has to be right, so (that) when you get it, you can hit the ground running.''
Attendees also witnessed the introduction of several new tires within MAST's three flag brands.
Drew Banas, product manager-Michelin-brand passenger and light truck tires, told dealers that since late 1991, when MAST debuted its 80,000-mile-warranted XH4, it has introduced a new product in virtually every replacement market segment.
``That's 16 new tires in just three years,'' he reminded them.
During the year, he said, Michelin will introduce a new line of Alpin snow tires, featuring a unique Y-shaped kerf design, which divides into two separate units as the tread wears down to provide additional gripping edges, allowing the tire to maintain much of its initial traction capability.
Meanwhile, Michelin's version of the ``continued mobility'' or runflat tire, the MXV4 ZP, will be an original equipment option on the 1995 Lincoln Continental.
Another of the company's recent technical innovations, the Michelin ``Coefficient'' tire-whose name represents a departure from Michelin's long-standing practice of giving its products non-descriptive alphabetical designations-is an exclusive fitment on General Motors Corp.'s Impact electric car, he told meeting attendees.
Among MAST's other planned product introductions are the BFGoodrich Radial Long Trail T/A, a new all-season light truck tire filling a market niche that accounts for one-fourth of all light truck tire sales, according to John Winterburn, BFG brand manager.
Scheduled to debut in April will be the new BFG Comp T/A Drag Radial line, the firm's first entry into that market and the industry's first DOT-certified radial-ply tire for drag racing.
Mr. Winterburn said the new product answers the needs of the enthusiast who ``drives his car to and from the event, and wants a street tire that will also hook up on the drag strip.''
The tire's introduction will be linked with the company's sponsorship of a new drag racing program including the National Muscle Car Association's eight-event series. The Comp T/A Drag Radial will compete in the BFGoodrich Tires Stock ET Challenge class, he said.
The most exciting new product making its official debut at the San Diego meeting, according to Mr. Banas, was the new Michelin Energy MXV4-the first passenger radial produced for the North American replacement market to incorporate the company's Radial XSE technology.
Promising to increase fuel efficiency as well as traction on wet pavement and snow without trading off expected tread life, radial XSE technology was described by MAST officials as ``the biggest news to hit the tire industry'' since Michelin commercially introduced the radial tire in 1948.
``Like the radial, it will revolutionize the industry. And it will dramatically change what consumers will come to expect from the tires they buy,'' Mr. Banas said.
A similar tire using XSE technology already has earned acceptance from more than a half-dozen automakers who see it as a way to meet federal mandates on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE).
The Energy MXV4 has demonstrated up to 18 percent less rolling resistance, noticeably improved wet handling, 1- to 5-percent quicker lap times, 5- to 12-percent shorter wet stops plus dry handling and treadwear equal to that of the conventional MXV4, the company said.
Installing such tires on all cars in the U.S. could save as much as 2.4 billion gallons of fuel annually, according to MAST.
Despite the Energy MXV4 carrying a Uniform Tire Quality Grade of 340 for treadwear vs. 300 for the current MXV4, it will be offered to the replacement market at no increase in price, Mr. Banas said.
Moreover, MAST will kickoff the MXV4's replacement market introduction with national television spots, featuring the traditional Michelin baby dressed as a ``wizard'' under a caption reading: ``Science that works like magic.''
The commercials will begin airing in mid March during the NCAA basketball tournament and later will continue during NBA playoff games.
In addition to TV advertising, an insert featuring the Energy MXV4 is scheduled to run during May and June in business publications including Fortune, Forbes, Business Week and The Wall Street Journal.
Also, during its six-month introduction, the tire will be offered with a ``consumer satisfaction promise'' allowing any buyer unhappy with the Energy MXV4 to return their tires within 30 days or 1,000 miles for a full refund.
Another promotion-for a free scientific weather station with the purchase of four such tires-is planned for June and July.