When Goodyear asked its dealers if they're getting enough fiber, they easily could have thought the tire maker's interest in the health of their business just took a decidedly personal route.
Instead, the question teased Goodyear's latest product introduction-the Eagle Featuring ResponsEdge Technology with carbon fiber-at the tire maker's annual dealer meeting earlier this month in Nashville. The same question will be featured in television ads that will begin running in May for the performance touring tire.
Following other major product launches, the new tire represents both a natural next step in Goodyear's product offerings as well as its continued drive for better profitability.
The Eagle tire is designed with a carbon fiber-reinforced sidewall that stiffens the outer wall of the tire to provide a more stable footprint on the road for cornering and maneuverability. An InsuLayer insert made with DuPont's Kevlar aramid fiber sits under the tread to help absorb road noise and lessen vibration. The tire's tread also features two distinct zones: the outer high-performance zone and an inner all-season zone.
Larry Mason, the company's president of consumer tires, calls the tire a ``NASCAR Eagle on the outside and a ComforTred/TripleTred on the inside,'' the latter referring to the Assurance lines of tires Goodyear introduced in 2004.
The tire is aimed at drivers of upscale sports sedans who want high performance yet a comfortable, quiet ride. Goodyear estimates these drivers make up more than half of the total high-performance market, which represents a 41 million tire segment.
The new Eagle tire will be produced in March in several plants, executives said. Initially, 24 H- and V-rated sizes will be available in 15- to 18-inch rim diameters, with another five Z-rated sizes expected in September and October. Dealer training-including ride-and-drive events-will begin in the spring, with shipments of the tires beginning in May.
The tire will compete against other lines such as the Michelin Energy MXV4 Plus and Bridgestone Turanza LS-H.
Jay Huff, president of Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Centers in Baltimore, said the tire's technology will be easy to explain to consumers. He said ``carbon'' and ``fiber'' are words people understand, as opposed to discussions about advanced silica compounds.
``I was very excited about it,'' Mr. Huff told Tire Business after the product launch. ``The new innovations they already have cover many of the customer base that's out there, and they haven't had a new innovation in the Eagle line recently, so I think that this may give us another shot in the arm for a whole new group of customers out there.''
Steve Disney of Disney Tire & Rubber Co. Inc. in Louisville, Ky., now a unit of Raben Tire Co. Inc., said he also is optimistic about the new product.
``I think they've gotten into a rhythm, bringing out things that are easy to translate to the consumer with these last three or four product launches,'' he said. ``This continues in with that very well.''
Dan Miller, manager of P. Lebzelter & Son Co.'s Millersville, Pa., outlet, said the tire's obvious dual zones will be very noticeable and attractive to consumers. ``To the right person, yes, I think we'll definitely be able to sell this tire,'' he said.
For Goodyear, the launch represents an important part of its continuing turnaround, though executives were quick to point out it's not the only facet of their efforts.
``I don't have a lynchpin on the new Eagle line,'' Jon Rich, president of North American Tire, told tire trade journalists. ``It's the next step in our progression. It's part of everything we have to do with North America to turn the business, but it's not the fulcrum of whether we're going to get to where we want to be or not.''
Still, the launch follows the example of other recent Goodyear launches by being in a premium segment-a strategy the tire maker hopes will improve margins for dealers and profitability for itself.
``At the end of the day, everybody wants to buy value, but most people don't want to buy cheap tires,'' Mr. Rich said. ``There's a big difference there, and there's a lot of value to be added to this segment.''
The launch also gives Goodyear an important marketing achievement, Mr. Mason said. With the Eagle line for performance, Assurance tires for passenger/broadline and SilentArmor and Fortera TripleTred products for sport-utility vehicles and light trucks, Goodyear now has a specialty technology offering in each major segment.
``We're very excited about that because now you can assume Goodyear has superior performance, whether it's a performance vehicle, light truck, SUV or passenger,'' he said.
Asked by Tire Business where Goodyear's new products will go from this point, Mr. Mason was coy. ``It's going to be harder to guess, isn't it?'' he asked rhetorically. ``...The more you start innovating, the more combinations you have going forward,'' he added. ``So maybe we'll be even tougher to read next year.''
Dealers interviewed by Tire Business said they were excited about the launch and optimistic about its chances in their business. Steve Stroud, owner of Steve's Quick Service in Gooding, Idaho, said he's glad the performance product was launched under the Eagle brand, which Goodyear executives described as a ``tremendous'' brand.
``Everybody knows Eagle, especially by NASCAR,'' Mr. Stroud said.
For emphasis, during the product launch a bald eagle handler brought out 18-year-old Challenger, a non-releasable bald eagle cared for by the non-profit American Eagle Foundation in Tennessee. The eagle flew through the room toward another handler at the back of the ballroom.