Michelin North America Inc. seems to be banking a lot on the two new tires it recently unveiled.
Adam Murphy, Michelin touring category manager, called the ride-and-drive events in Las Vegas for the media and tire dealers ``probably the most important product launch we have had for the brand for the past several years.''
At the heart of this launch, during the week of April 18, are tires aimed at different segments of the rapidly growing performance market. In the sport-performance category, Michelin debuted the Pilot Exalto A/S, while for the performance-touring tire segment it offered the Michelin Pilot MXM4.
The Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker said its efforts will be supported by a new customer service initiative, extensive media and point-of-sale advertising and dealer incentive programs.
``If you look at the growth we are forecasting for the Michelin brand for 2004 to 2005, the huge majority of that growth is tied to this launch,'' Mr. Murphy said. A principal focus of the introductions, he added, would be differentiating between the distinct characteristics of touring and sport tires and meeting the specialized needs of consumers in each market.
The Pilot Exalto A/S-which since 1998 has been an original equipment tire for the makers of high-performance luxury sedans-comes to the aftermarket in June in seven additional sizes.
Eric Sweigart, ultra-high performance category manager, said the Exalto A/S will appeal to drivers of the Mazda Miata, Volkswagen GTI, Dodge Intrepid and the Nissan 240 SX, as well as other sports performance vehicles.
Michelin's focus on these two performance tire categories is, Mr. Murphy said, directly attributable to market growth. Performance tires account for 17 percent of the total tire market, and annual growth over the next several years will be about 9.5 percent, he said, or nearly six times the annual growth rate for all tires of 1.6 percent. Within the performance category, Mr. Murphy said touring tires are expected to grow at an annual rate of 8 percent, while the sport tires segment will increase by 9.5 percent each year.
The tire maker will continue to offer its Energy MXV4 tire, aimed at drivers of such ``near luxury'' cars, such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Camry, Mr. Murphy said. But the new MXM4 is designed for such high performance luxury vehicles as the Audi A6, Acura TL, Infiniti Q45 and Cadillac CTS. It will compete directly with the Bridgestone Turanza.
Dean Weekes, technical marketing manager for Michelin touring tires, said the MXM4 offers several distinct advances. Among those he cited are a torque-locking zigzag sipe pattern that resists deformation under load, European-style round shoulders to provide feedback during steering maneuvers and bead tension and ply structures to aid ride comfort. The MXM4 is offered in H, V and W speed ratings in 16- to 19-inch sizes and 205 to 255 section widths.
Mr. Sweigart said that improvements in wet and dry grip and all-season performance are characteristics of the Exalto A/S, along with a 45,000-mile treadwear warranty. It will, he added, be a competitively priced sport tire when compared with the company's ``super sport exotic'' Pilot Sport PS2.
When it arrives in the market in June, it will go head-to-head with the Goodyear Eagle RS/A and the Bridgestone Potenza RE950. Available sizes range from 14- to 17-inch wheel diameters in 45 to 60 aspect ratios, and in section widths from 185 to 235.
Mark Ludlow, manager of technical marketing for Michelin ultra-high performance and sport tires, said the Exalto A/S features a symmetrical V-shaped tread design-called Advanced Hydro-Chute Technology-to aid in water evacuation. He added that the tire has a shoulder with tapered bridging and oversized shoulder blocks. Despite its all-season rating and 45,000-mile limited treadwear warranty, he claimed the longer-life tread does not sacrifice handling characteristics.
Both the MXM4 and Exalto A/S will carry Michelin's 30-day customer satisfaction guarantee. Consumers purchasing a set of four MX Series tires will gain access to a free new customer initiative called the ``Tire Concierge.'' Under the program, those tire owners will be able to receive telephone assistance directly from Michelin when purchasing new tires or needing service. The company will help consumers choose the right tires and contact their preferred dealer to ensure that the tires are in stock, then arrange an appointment for installation.
The product launch also features new advertising initiatives and dealer incentives. Mr. Murphy said that both print and television ads will focus on the MXM4 performance touring tire. Among the magazines that will carry the MXM4 ads are Golf Digest and Food and Wine. The Exalto A/S will be featured on the Speed Network and in print ads, Mr. Sweigart said. Point of sale displays will reinforce the ad messages, he noted.
The dealer incentive program will run from June 1 through July 31. For every Exalto A/S or MXM4 tire sold, a dealer will receive one sales incentive entry.
Dealers with the most sales will win one of 10 grand prizes of a four-day/three-night trip for two to the PGA Michelin Championship at Las Vegas in October. Five dealers will win first prizes of one spot in the Porsche Driving Experience, and 50 dealers will win second prizes, including an iPod shuffle and a $50 iTunes gift certificate.