Michelin North America Inc. maintained its lofty status in passenger tires for the fourth consecutive year while Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. forged a tie with Michelin for the top spot in light truck tires in J.D. Power & Associates' 2002 consumer satisfaction survey.
In the retailer portion of Power's 11th annual Replacement Tire Buyer Behavior and Satisfaction Study, Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. of Prineville, Ore., ranked highest in customer satisfaction for the third year in a row.
The study is based on responses from more than 9,400 vehicle owners in the U.S. who recently purchased replacement tires for their vehicles.
For Cooper, which tied for fourth among passenger tire manufacturers, the climb to the top spot in the light truck rankings was cause for celebration. The Findlay, Ohio-based company was ranked third a year ago.
``We're not surprised but we're certainly pleased,'' a Cooper spokeswoman said. ``That's pretty good validation of our product quality. (Now) we have to keep doing what we've done all along, which is provide a tire that satisfies consumer demand for performance and value. That's what we've been doing for years and years. Now it's been taken to the consumer level.''
In both the passenger-vehicle and light-truck categories, Michelin demonstrated strong performance across all the customer-driven measures that comprise the replacement tire satisfaction index, Power said.
These include situational performance, long-term performance (reliability, dependability and wearability), design and product quality. For the past four years, Michelin has ranked highest in customer satisfaction for its replacement tires among passenger-vehicle owners.
``We are always delighted to be recognized in this way by consumers,'' a Michelin spokeswoman said. ``Consistently making the top spots...for customer satisfaction inspires us to keep listening to the consumer and pushing the innovation envelope to provide consumers with the quality and driving security they have come to expect from Michelin.''
Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. followed Michelin in the passenger vehicle segment, which includes cars and compact vans. Uniroyal and Kelly (in a tie) and Cooper and Goodyear (in a tie) finished next, respectively. Tire brands performing at or below industry average, in alphabetical order, were BFGoodrich, Bridgestone, Dayton, Douglas, Dunlop, Firestone, General, Sears and Yokohama.
BFGoodrich, followed the top-ranked Michelin and Cooper brands in the light truck category. The remaining brands performing at or below industry average, in alphabetical order, were Firestone, Goodyear and Uniroyal.
``Michelin has enjoyed continued success in the J.D. Power and Associates tire studies by staying focused on customer needs and consistently delivering on those aspects that are most important to vehicle owners,'' said Jeff Zupancic, director of the tire practice at Power. ``In the light-truck segment, Cooper Tire has improved significantly in the areas of situational performance (including fast start traction and handling responsiveness, among others) and design (road quietness, sidewall style/appearance and tread design).''
In the retail portion of the study, one indication of the strength of Les Schwab's performance is that more than half of its customers indicated they were ``delighted'' with their overall retailer experience compared to an average of about one-third of respondents giving their retailer the highest rating possible.
``From a tire retailer satisfaction standpoint, Les Schwab is in a class by itself, with eight out of 10 Schwab customers returning to the same retailer as their previous purchase,'' Mr. Zupancic said. ``Schwab's commitment to delighting customers in the areas of personnel and service, the largest contributing customer-driven factors to retailer satisfaction, is key to its high customer-retention levels.''
Following Les Schwab Tire Centers in tire retailer satisfaction were Big O Tires and Goodyear Auto Centers, respectively.
Finishing at or below industry average in tire retailer satisfaction, in alphabetical order, were: Discount Tire Co., Firestone Car Care, National Tire & Battery (NTB), Penske Auto Centers, Pep Boys, Price Club/Costco, Sam's Club, Sears Auto Centers, Tires Plus and Wal-Mart.
The study segments tire buyer behavior into four key categories: brand buyers, brand shoppers, retailer reliants and price shoppers. The study found that while a competitive tire price is foundational in tire retailing, tire brand plays a significant role in the purchase decision for nearly half of all tire buyers, and tire retailer personnel influence more than one-fourth of buyers.