WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.—U.S. consumers are unsure about the benefits of and potential trade-offs related to low-rolling-resistance tires, according to research by J.D. Power and Associates. That's a finding that should be a wake-up call for tire makers and marketers to review their advertising and marketing efforts in this area.
"While the marketing of low-rolling-resistance tires has primarily focused on fuel efficiency, tire manufacturers may also benefit from advertisements that help educate consumers about the traction and dependability of the tires," said Brent Gruber, director, J.D. Powers' global automotive division.
"Consumers don't fully understand the benefit of low-rolling resistant tires," he said. "They believe they are forfeiting important aspects of tire performance by opting for low-rolling resistant tires, yet don't know how much improvement in fuel efficiency they should expect in return."
The Weslake Village-based market research company came to its conclusion after tracking social media activity that mentioned these types of tires. The company used its internal Consumer Insights and Strategy Group to track "unaided" references to key words associated with fuel economy and tires on social media, Mr. Gruber said.
Over a year-long period, the group found that many consumers are concerned that equipping low-rolling resistance tires on their vehicle means compromising traction and durability in exchange for better gas mileage. Additionally, these consumers perceive that auto makers select the best type of tires for their vehicle and, thus, they are apprehensive about straying too far from the original selection, J.D. Power said.
While consumers ultimately conclude that low-rolling resistance tires may improve fuel efficiency, they are confused and concerned regarding the associated sacrifices. J.D. Power released these findings in its latest OE Tire Customer Satisfaction Study, which rated Michelin and Pirelli as the No. 1 passenger and light truck OE tire brands, respectively.
The firm's findings in the low-rolling-resistance area are an intriguing contrast to other J.D. Power research published at about the same time showing potential vehicle buyers have a "high interest" in technology related to fuel economy.
That report—the 2013 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study—measures vehicle owner interest and purchase intent for emerging automotive technologies, both before and after the market price is revealed. Among the features vehicle owners said they "definitely would" or "probably would" purchase were fuel economy indicators—at a premium up to $50—and active shutter grille vents—up to $150 premium. J.D.
Power also tackled the issue of run-flat tires in its latest OE tire report, saying owners of 2011- and 2012-model-year cars in the U.S. equipped with run-flat tires are not as satisfied with their tires as owners of cars with standard tires and are less inclined to recommend their brand to others. The firm bases its conclusions on the input of about 2,150 owners of cars with run-flats who responded to the company's latest survey.
Run-flat tires are being used primarily on luxury and performance sports vehicles, J.D. Power said, often to help the car makers improve fuel efficiency by eliminating the need for a spare tire and jack paraphernalia, thereby cutting weight. While owners of both types of vehicles expressed lower satisfaction with their run-flats, the feeling was more pronounced among owners of performance sports cars. The difference in satisfaction level among owners of luxury vehicles vs. others was only about 1.5 percent, J.D.
Power's data show, while the difference among sports car owners was more than 9 percent.
Among the specific reasons for this difference, J.D. Power said, was the need to replace a run-flat tire prematurely. Customers with run-flat tires indicated they are twice as likely to have to replace a tire or tires early as are those with standard tires.
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