AKRON (Oct. 11, 2016) — Michelin North America Inc. executive David Stafford painted a future of fast-paced change and ongoing innovation for tire manufacturing during his keynote address at the International Tire Exhibition & Conference for tire manufacturers in September.
But he could have just as well have been speaking to the entire tire industry, including independent tire dealers, because what happens at the tire manufacturing level tends to trickle down and impact retail and commercial tire businesses, as well.
- This editorial appears in the Oct. 10 print edition of Tire Business.
Speaking to a room full of tire designers, R&D personnel, plant managers and others, Mr. Stafford said the world is “entering a new phase of mobility innovation, one that we have not seen since the early 1900s.”
Companies such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc., themselves innovative San Francisco-based organizations, already are testing self-driving cars, he said, while Tesla Motors Inc. has pushed electric-powered cars to the point where they can drive beyond 200 miles on a single charge.
In addition, Internet-search company Google Inc. is partnering with Detroit 3 auto makers to push the boundaries of mobility.
So what does this mean for retail and commercial tire dealers?
Mr. Stafford provided an idea. “We take for granted what we do here today will be there tomorrow,” he said.
“We need to be those trend setters. It's important for us to remember that companies like Tesla and Google are also companies of mobility and are moving forward in that way.”
This premise challenges not only those involved in tire design and manufacturing, but the businesses that sell and service tires, as well.
Ever since the invention of the automobile, tires have been sold and serviced basically the same way — with retail customers visiting independent tire dealerships to have new tires installed and/or serviced.
Commercial dealers also have followed a little-changed approach to servicing the tire needs of their fleet customers by providing on-site fleet tire maintenance along with service trucks for when breakdowns occur on the highways.
But what if someone or some organization came up with a different way of servicing tire customers, similar to how Uber and Lyft have shaken up the taxi/ ride-for-hire industry?
What if new technologies in automobiles and tires required a more educated workforce in tire dealerships? What if self-driving vehicles become the norm and consumers no longer felt the need to own a car, let alone two or three?
How would retail and commercial tire dealers react and respond to this brave new world?
These are questions worth pondering, especially if Mr. Staff¬ord is correct — that what we take for granted today may not be there tomorrow.
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