AGOURA HILLS, Calif.-The Michelin and Big O brands have powered up to the top of consumers' replacement tire preferences, at least as far as J.D. Power and Associates is concerned. Based on the marketing information firm's 1996 Replacement Tire Satisfaction Study, released April 15, Big O captured the ``best overall'' in the passenger and compact van category. Michelin was named the top choice of consumers shopping for light truck tires, and was a close runner-up in the passenger tire grouping.
Toyo passenger tires finished third, Power said, followed in alphabetical order by Cooper, Dunlop, Firestone, Goodyear, Kelly-Springfield and Uniroyal.
In the light truck category, BFGoodrich was second, followed by Goodyear. Bridgestone, Cooper and Kelly had index scores that were average or above, though Agoura Hills-based Power would not differentiate what those were.
The Power report also revealed that less than 25 percent of consumers replace their original equipment tires with the same brand that came on their vehicle.
Those numbers ``have been slipping a couple percentage points every year since the inception of this five-year study,'' said Lee Nauert, manager of tire research.
This year's survey saw a significant improvement in truck-type vehicle tire satisfaction, he said. ``Not only do these tires exceed the satisfaction levels of last year,'' they also exceed the levels for passenger and compact van tires.
Retailers are responsible for about one-fifth of the satisfaction scores on replacement tires, the Power report said.
A new wrinkle to this year's survey is the inclusion of auto dealerships as a separate category where consumers noted they buy tires. Previously, they were lumped into the ``all other'' group, aside from other retail establishments including independent tire dealerships, company-owned tire stores, mass merchandisers and service stations.
And for a first-timer, new-car dealerships did real well, surpassing all other tire outlets, as far as consumer preference goes.
Factors that measure customer satisfaction in the retail arena are ``retail experience'' and ``price selection,'' Mr. Nauert said.
Auto dealerships did quite well, although not that many people prefer to buy tires from them, he continued.
``Is this a threat to tire dealers? No, I don't think so,'' he said. ``Service stations had previously done very well, and they didn't do too bad this year, either,'' Mr. Nauert said. ``But it's a matter of having the right product at the right time when a person needs a tire, treating the customer fairly and satisfying them.''
Looking at retailer-related satisfaction, the Power survey found Les Schwab Tire Centers in the nation's Northwest leads all other tire retailers. Also grabbing well above average retailing scores are Big O Tire stores (in the West and Midwest), and National Tire Warehouse (NTW) and 4Day Tire stores (in the West).
Although all those retailers are predominantly in the Western U.S., the survey is not weighted toward any particular region, Mr. Nauert said.
Approximately 14,400 original owners of 1991 model-year vehicles responded to the study based on the tires they purchased to replace their original ones.