LAS VEGASAs the year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the General Tire brand wraps up, the General management team is planning to rev up the brand's two-year-old Anywhere is Possible promotional message with a new sports sponsorship campaign and some additional tire lines.
General Tire brand owner Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. expects to disclose the sports sponsorship agreement before year-endperhaps as early as at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas the first week of Novemberaccording to Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental, who declined to be more specific at this time about the nature of the agreement.
The sponsorship will complement and enhance the outdoor adventure persona Conti has been building for the General brand the past few years, Mr. Roffler told Tire Business at a three-day event in Las Vegas celebrating 100 years of the General brand.
Conti also intends to continue with and build on its off-road racing commitments with Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series and Best in the Desertwhich Mr. Roffler said have helped Conti build the brand into the company's premium light truck tire offering and a solid complement to the Conti brand in the passenger segmentalong with its sponsorship of Major League Fishing.
As such, the brand has come a long way since it came perilously close to being phased out a decade ago during a several-year stretch of heavy losses by the North American tire business unit.
It was at that time that Conti hired Mr. Roffler away from Toyo Tire North America Inc. and tasked him with helping redefine and revive the General brand, which at that time was little more than a collection of a handful of OE-derived models.
The first thing we had to do was convince Hannover (Conti management) that Conti needed the General brand. At that time everything was being questioned,... Mr. Roffler said.
Once management was on board with keeping the brand, he directed a team effort to essentially scrap the brand's entire portfolio at that time and come up with a replacement-segment-oriented lineup.
Conti pulled the General brand out of OE for passenger cars while pushing it forward on the light truck side, he said.
Conti rolled out the by-now recognizable stylized GT logo in 2006 to replace the decades-old elongated G General logo and started an accelerated development program, using Conti's extensive R&D resources to bring out tire lines that could compete performance wise with other companies' Tier II offerings.
Special emphasis was placed on the light truck category, Mr. Roffler said, where management saw above-average growth potential. The Grabber name, which had been in use since the mid-1990s and had recognition in the light truck segment, was refreshened to give the light truck line a more aggressive persona.
The result is a brand with attitude, Mr. Roffler said, delivering reliability, performance and an American heritage.
We see General as an 'all-American' brand, he added, noting that this image is an important selling point in many overseas markets.
Bill Caldwell, vice president, sales and marketing, noted that the North American management team's task now is to not let the company's commitment to the brand slip and instead to keep accelerating the product development cycle to stay current withor even ahead ofthe competition.
In many segments, we're competing with other companies' flag brands, Mr. Caldwell said, referring to brands like Hankook, Kumho, Toyo, etc., in the light truck segment.
Ten years ago we were living with the fact that the brand was a niche product, he said. We've now decided we need to maintain a normal product cycle.
Mr. Roffler echoed that sentiment, saying, We continue to 'churn' the product lifecycle for General at a pace close to that of the Continental brand.
Keeping the brand's products fresh is essential to maintaining and expanding its place in the market, he said, while also acknowledging he and his North American colleagues have to keep convincing their European counterparts in R&D to develop tires that can weigh three to four times what the typical passenger tire weighs for European conditions is necessary.
This task is particularly critical in the light truck segment, which is predominantly an Americas product category, owing to the vehicle parc mix, the two executives agreed.
And that envelope will keep growing, Mr. Roffler said, with the brand's first 37-inch Grabber fitment due to be launched at the SEMA Show in 17-, 18- and 20-inch sizes for a range of off-road applications.
Looking ahead, Mr. Roffler said customers should expect to see the General brand in market segments where it currently is not active.
To mark the brand's centennial, Continental invited more than 140 key customers from around the world to Las Vegas to meet with executives, attend a Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series event at nearby Las Vegas Speedway and experience driving off-road buggies through the desert and a range of Dodge sports cars on a paved road course.
Conti said it sells the General brand in 98 countries, a development that prompted parent Conti to declare General its second global brand alongside Continental.
Among the North American dealerships represented were American Tire Distributors Holdings Inc.; Dealer Tire; Discount Tire/America's Tire; Dunn Tire; Sullivan Tire; Jack Williams Tire; K&M Tire; MotoStar & Auto Products; Pep Boys-Manny, Moe & Jack; Reliable Tire; U.S. AutoForce; TBC Corp.; Tire Rack; and Tire's Warehouse Inc.
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