MILAN, Italy-``What we have here is a failure to communicate.'' That classic line from the movie Cool Hand Luke is a sentiment that perhaps occurs far too often in tire dealerships across the land.
Does this sound familiar? A customer comes in and tries to explain a tire or vehicle handling problem, but can't quite put a finger on it. The salesperson behind the counter scratches his/her head and develops a blank stare.
It's a problem that often cuts both ways, as dealership personnel may not know enough about the products they're selling, either.
Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. (PATC) officials readily acknowledge that, and are taking steps to better train their dealers and sales personnel about what makes the company's products tick-before they begin selling them.
In conjunction with the North American launch this June of its ultra-high-performance P7000 summer tire, PATC plans to take about 50 dealers to Milan, Italy, home of its parent, Pirelli S.p.A., for a crash course (no pun intended) in driving the new tires.
As a preview, PATC recently took journalists to Pirelli's Vizzola test track in Milan to put the tire through its paces under various wet- and dry-handling conditions, as well as get a glimpse at what the dealers will experience.
At the track, journalists heard-as dealers will-a presentation by instructors from the Pirelli-sponsored Siegfried Stohr School of Driving, based in Mizzano, Italy. Topics included ``down and dirty,'' simplified discussions of vehicle handling differences; traction; acceleration and deceleration; oversteer, understeer and countersteer; and how all of them affect vehicle control.
Kate Rafanelli, a Stohr driver who races touring cars, told journalists that before dealers can understand customers' ``tire problem'' complaints, they must have a working grasp of the many factors, including tires, that affect vehicle handling. And she warned of at least three types of customers:
The ``weak'' customer, who uses plain but precise speech, yet explains very little about the problem he or she is experiencing;
The ``inexact'' customer, who is indecisive and trusts a dealer completely. The dealer, in turn, must extrapolate information to get at the root of the problem; and
The ``false expert,'' who claims to understand and explains a very technical problem, though often incorrectly. A dealer must carefully question and interpret what is being described, Ms. Rafanelli said.
The dealer must establish some pertinent data before he can understand and fix the problem, she added, such as the frequency of the problem and the conditions under which it occurs.
Franco Carini, PATC's vice president of marketing, said the dealers' trip to Milan will be more than just an exercise in learning how to sell tires.
``How to make a profit is only one side of the equation,'' he said. ``Dealers have to learn to better explain to customers the products they're selling.''
Actually, price is less of a consideration to the ultra-high-performance crowd, Mr. Carini said, because enthusiasts in that market niche spend a lot of money on a vehicle and know virtually everything about its performance.
What they want to have explained to them is, among other things, tire design, technology, and handling characteristics-crucial elements that could help tire dealers cement a sale.
To that end, dealers going to Milan will also have the opportunity to get ``wired'' for the P7000s.
In-car cameras will record their driving experience, with audio, including not only vehicle speed and driving technique (or lack of it), but drivers' fancy footwork on the gas, clutch and braker pedals.
Some of the tapes will no doubt be suitable for viewing on ``America's Funniest Home Videos.''