As Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. gives its Avon tires a makeover, it's turning to mail order/online marketer Tire Rack to distribute the revamped line.
The venerable brand that England's Queen Elizabeth uses on her motor cars is receiving three new tires designed and engineered specifically for the U.S. and Canadian markets in what amounts to a re-launch of the line in North America.
Cooper said Tire Rack, which handles tires, wheels, springs, shocks, brakes and accessories, will distribute the Avon brand exclusively in the U.S. and Canada.
South Bend-based Tire Rack will offer Avon tires direct to consumers as well as direct to dealers and other resellers through its wholesale operation, said Matt Edmonds, Tire Rack's vice president of marketing. The company offers one- to two-day delivery from its warehouses in Reno, Nev., New Castle, Del., Shreveport, La., and South Bend.
The deal contains firsts for both firms. It is the first time Cooper has entrusted sole distribution of one of its brands to another company, and it's the first time Tire Rack has become the exclusive distributor of a tire line.
``Our Avon brand has been successfully sold in Europe for many years spurred on by the rich heritage of racing throughout Europe in various open-wheel series,'' said Tom Dattilo, Cooper chairman, CEO and president. ``The time is right to capitalize on that expertise in the U.S. and Canadian markets, and we believe Tire Rack is the right retailer to do just that.''
Cooper acquired the Avon brand in 1997 when it bought Avon Rubber P.L.C.'s tire operations in the United Kingdom.
Officials of both Cooper and Tire Rack announced the distribution agreement and showcased the first three tires of the new Avon Tyres USA product lineup during a press conference March 16 at Tire Rack's headquarters in South Bend.
The new tires are:
* The Avon Tech M500, a Z-rated (but with a W-rated cap to a maximum of 168 mph) asymmetrical, summer passenger tire available in late spring. Initially offered in 22 sizes, the tire will come in a range of 15- to 20-inch rim diameters and 30- to 50-series aspect ratios. Another 21 sizes will be added by year-end for a total of 43.
* The Avon Tech M550 A/S, a Z-rated (with a W-rated cap) all-season directional tire, available in early summer. The tire will be offered in 21 sizes with 16- to 18-inch rim diameters and in 40- to 55-series aspect ratios.
* The Tech R, a high-traction, Department of Transportation-approved competition tire, available starting April 15, in time to establish eligibility for the 2004 Tire Rack Sports Car Club of America Solo National Program. The tire range will cover 12 sizes in 13- to 18-inch rim diameters and 30- to 60-series aspect ratios.
Cooper is making the Tech M500 and M550 A/S at its plants in the U.S., while the Tech R will be manufactured at Cooper Avon Tyres' plant in Melksham, England.
On tap for the line is a sport truck tire that will be introduced in this year's third and fourth quarters in 18- to 24-inch rim diameters and a size range of about 15 sizes.
The new tires are totally different from Avon products Cooper has been selling in the U.S., said Dick Stephens, president of Cooper's tire division.
The previous Avon lineup in the U.S. included the Avon ZZ1, a Z-rated summer ultra-high performance tire, and the Avon 338 H- and V-rated performance tires, both of which were designed for the European marketplace.
But since 2002, Cooper has been phasing out these tires in preparation for its partnership with Tire Rack, said Phillip Caris, Cooper's vice president of marketing. In their place, Cooper has offered its recently introduced Cooper Zeon and Mastercraft brands of high-performance tires.
What makes the new Avon tires distinct, Cooper and Tire Rack officials said, is that they were designed and developed using 1.3 billion miles of real-world tire feedback provided by more than 60,000 consumers to Tire Rack's Web site, www.tirerack.com. This research offers information on what customers are looking for in tire performance, such as tire noise and comfort requirements, performance preferences and tire durability.
Tire Rack's year-round tire testing also provided benchmarking targets for the new tires.
This collaboration between Cooper and Tire Rack resulted in new Avon tires that have been ``performance tuned for drivers by drivers,'' as the brand's tagline states.
A key attribute for the new tires was a quiet ride.
``We looked at the customer with all season tires and worked hard with the tread pattern that was more likely to produce a quiet ride throughout its life,'' said Mike Joines, Tire Rack vice president.
In selecting Tire Rack to handle the Avon line, Cooper officials admitted the company previously had not marketed or merchandised the brand effectively in the U.S. The line had limited fitments, no clear brand strategy and suffered manufacturing capacity limitations. ``So there was really no reason for us to splash the Avon name,'' Mr. Dattilo said.
``Now there is in our relationship, in our partnership, in going forward with Tire Rack.''
In addition, Cooper didn't want to add another brand to its traditional channels of distribution and thus was looking for a new avenue, Mr. Caris said.
``We had a brand with a lot of value in it, and we were looking for the proper fit in the U.S. and Canadian markets,'' he said. ``And we saw Tire Rack as a very good fit.''
Tire Rack will coordinate marketing for the Avon line using print ads in general and niche automotive enthusiast publications, direct mail to consumers and tire resellers, online through Tire Rack's and enthusiasts' Web sites, in tire trade publications and through motorsports events, Mr. Edmonds said.
The companies are positioning Avon as a direct competitor of the BFGoodrich and Dunlop brands at similar pricing levels, Mr. Joines said.
With Tire Rack selling many competitive tire brands, Mr. Joines said Avon won't receive any special treatment. ``The customer decides what they want to buy,'' he said. ``This business was built on making sure the customer is satisfied with the product.''