PHOENIX (June 7, 2004) — The Greek philosopher Socrates is credited with saying “know thyself.” Bridgestone/Firestone, on the other hand, prefers that dealers and consumers know its products.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker, not one to keep quiet about its tire technology, let journalists and dealers take a spin—and make some tires squeal—on recently launched high-performance tires during its April 6 “Drive and Learn” at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix. Not lost on the occasion was the first tire line in the brand that created a buzz at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas last fall—Fuzion ZRi.
Journalists and dealers test drove three Bridgestone tires—the Potenza RE050, Potenza G 009, Insignia SE200—and Fuzion ZRi on a series of slalom tracks against competitors' brands and got to see the tires' handling and cornering abilities on wet and dry surfaces. Instructors from Real Time Driving School were on hand to guide participants along the courses in BMW 530i sedans shod with the RE050 and the Michelin Pilot Sport PS2.
BMW 325i sedans featured the Potenza G 009 pitted against the Goodyear Eagle GT HR; the Insignia SE200 and Michelin Symmetry tires shod Chevy Impalas; and the Fuzion ZRi went up against three competitor brands on the Acura RSX—Kumho Ecsta Supra 712, Hankook Ventus K104 and Yokohama AVS ES100.
Dealers attending the Drive and Learn couldn't contain their excitement over Fuzion—both its sales performance at their stores so far as well its performance on the track.
“(Fuzion) is selling like crazy,” said Bobby Jenkins, manager of the wholesale division for S&S Tire Inc. in Nashville. “Our competition sells the Kumho (Ecsta Supra) product, and I wanted to get firsthand knowledge of whether this new product Bridgestone is putting out is going to be a little better product than what I'm seeing in our market with our competitors.”
Mr. Jenkins noted that his first order of 800 Fuzion ZRi units sold out in a few weeks, and he's had to place three separate orders for more since because Fuzion isn't staying in the stores. He said tuner customers have walked into tire stores mentioning that they had seen Fuzion on a tuner show aired by MTV and wanted to purchase the tire.
On the course, he said he was impressed with how the Fuzion ZRi “blew away cornering.”
“I think (Fuzion) is taking the market by storm,” said Terry Chambers, owner of Los Angeles-based West Coast Firestone, noting that he also is sold out of the few hundred Fuzion ZRi tires he ordered. Mr. Chambers, who sells primarily Bridgestone and Firestone flag brands, said he offers some Hankook high-performance tires in order to fill the tuner market niche in his area and was expecting the Fuzion ZRi to perform equally at the raceway to competitive brands in the same price range. After a few spins on the track, he said he was surprised.
“I think Fuzion really stuck out in my mind because I really didn't expect the performance to be that much better than anything else out there,” Mr. Chambers told Tire Business. “I had hoped that it would be as good, and that's all I was looking for.”
West Coast Firestone has been flooded lately by calls from tuners asking about Fuzion—Who makes it? What's it all about? How long has it been around?—Mr. Chambers said, adding that he thinks it will take a little while for Fuzion to catch on with those customers.
“But I think once it does, and these kids get on these tires and see they perform considerably better than the competition at the same price level, I think the tire is going to be a tough one to keep in stock,” he said.
The H-,V- and W-rated Fuzion ZRi features a directional tread pattern for appearance and handling and is available in 30 sizes fitting 16- to 20-inch rim diameters. The tire's UTQG rating is 320 AA. BFS is supporting the ZRi with a major marketing campaign that includes a Web site, www.thefuzionzone.com, and an interactive, online racing game.
The Potenza RE050 is an ultra-high-performance tire with W and Y speed ratings and a UTQG rating of 140 AA. It is available in 39 OE and replacement sizes to fit 16- to 19-inch rims, with 13 sizes available for the run-flat version. The tire was selected as original equipment for BMW 5- and 6-series and Z4 roadster, Porsche 997, Mercedes Benz C-, E- and S-class, Audi C6 and Enzo Ferrari.
The RE050's technology is derived from the grooved tread design of the Potenza Formula One dry tire and the Potenza F1 rain tire to offer grip on dry roads and traction on wet roads, the company said.
Positioned between the Potenza S-03 Pole Position and Potenza RE750 in BFS' “best category,” the RE050 will compete against the Michelin Pilot Sport, Goodyear Eagle F1 GS-D3 and the Pirelli P-Zero Rosso. The new tire “follows in the sure-footed steps of the Bridgestone Potenza S-03 Pole Position,” according to Phil Pacsi, executive director of North American Consumer Tire Brand Marketing.
The Potenza G 009—an H-rated tire with a UTQG rating of 460 AA —comes with a 50,000-mile tread warranty and 30-day test drive. Available in 25 sizes in 65-40 series sizes to fit 14- to 17-inch rim diameters, the Potenza G 009 is positioned in BFS' “better” category to compete against the BFGoodrich Traction T/A, Goodyear Eagle GT/HR and the Dunlop SP Sport A2. It replaces the Bridgestone Eager and Potenza RE910 tires.
Not everything in BFS' portfolio of new tires was a high-performance product. The tire maker also rolled out the Insignia SE200 mass market tire to replace the Insignia SL.
With OE fitments on the Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Corolla, the Insignia is available in 29 sizes for 13- to 16-inch rims and 80 to 55 series aspect ratios. It comes with a 65,000-mile treadwear warranty.
The tire has UTQG ratings of 560 AB (14-16 inch sizes), 440 AB (13 inch) and 320 BB (OE).
In BFS' “better” category, the Insignia is meant for the value-conscious consumer and will compete against the Michelin Symmetry, Goodyear Regatta II and BFGoodrich Traction T/A.
All four tires debuted at the Drive and Learn are engineered with UNI-T Technology, and the Bridgestone tires come with a Platinum Pact, three-year warranty and 30-day test drive offer. Platinum Pact provides replacement at no charge if the tire becomes unusable due to defects in materials or workmanship for up to three years from date of purchase or four years from date of manufacture.
To support its new Bridgestone and Fuzion product lines, BFS is planning a heavy advertising schedule in automotive, consumer and trade publications, TV and radio ads, participation in feature car competitions and a Web site dedicated to Fuzion.
In a move to further promote the launch, BFS has introduced a new ad tagline for the Bridgestone brand: “Passion for Excellence.”
From April 25-May 22, the company offered a $50 rebate on some Bridgestone Turanza, Potenza and Dueler lines to tie in with its Bridgestone-brand ads in Parade magazine, USA Today and several Spanish-speaking publications.
Also, in New York's Times Square, billboards featuring the Bridgestone and Firestone brands have been displayed prominently.
Mr. Jenkins said he thinks BFS is on the right track with its advertising and marketing, noting that the rebate is “always a big hit.”