Nearly a decade ago, the leadership at Continental Tire The Americas L.L.C. came to a difficult conclusion: The company didn't have the product to compete for government and other national account fleet business.
Over the span of the next eight years or so, the American arm of German-based rubber and automotive giant Continental A.G. began plotting a course that it hopes one day will position the tire maker among the top three competitors globally.
That plan took on more shape during the recent Gold Trip for Conti dealers in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. There, Conti executives announced the release of the G-MAX Justice, General Tire's entry into the competitive government agency business.
Joe Maher, product manager for passenger and winter tires in the U.S., told dealers the product was designed specifically for police departments, government entities and law-enforcement agencies. Compared with a Tier 1 competitor, Mr. Maher said, the tire offers 15 percent better performance in wet braking, cut and chip resistance, and road wear.
Conti said the tire will fit seven major police pursuit vehicles, including three models each from Ford and Chevrolet.
"It will save agencies money through its longer wear and durability," Mr. Maher said.
More importantly, in an industry where growth has been slow, it's another step in Conti's quest to expand market share.
It's what tire makers must do to differentiate themselves in a time with so much disruption: Find opportunity out of the surrounding chaos.
"We saw an opportunity a couple of years ago to grow the business in a couple of areas," Chris Charity, vice president of sales, told Tire Business. "One of those areas is to work with fleets and national accounts, and also in the government area."
Mr. Charity called those opportunities "low-hanging fruit," ripe for Conti's picking.
Conti began "looking at the government side, looking at local bid opportunities, working with dealers, listening to what needs they had in those areas," Mr. Charity said. "Quite frankly, we needed to have the right products."
With the release of the all-terrain Grabber line and now with the General G-MAX Justice, Conti has begun to fill out its portfolio, offering products in niche markets with growth potential.
Returning to the police-pursuit market was quite a process. According to Mr. Charity, Conti had to assemble the right team to lead the effort — those with strong understanding of the business — and then produce the right products.
As part of its efforts to reintroduce itself to the market, Conti has become one of three approved suppliers by the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO), a nonprofit cooperative purchasing program that facilitates public-procurement solicitations and agreements using a lead-state model. The designation became official on April 1.
"We've never been on this list before," Mr. Charity said. "We're pretty excited about it."
Feedback on the G-MAX Justice has been positive, thus far. And that has Conti officials believing their decision to re-enter this market has been the right one.
"We're starting from a smaller base, so we're seeing some pretty significant growth," Mr. Charity said. "Over the next three years, we'll start to see some step changes, and now that we're on NASPO, we're really active on these bids.
"Over the next three to five years, we'll see this activity ramp up."
The police-pursuit segment is one avenue Conti has targeted for growing market share. As Bill Caldwell, vice president of sales and marketing, said, if the tire maker wants to run with the big boys, it has to compete against them, too.
"We're now capable and ready to go in other parts of businesses that we weren't really participating before and where the Bridgestones and Goodyears of the world were more dominant," he said.
"A dealer doesn't want to switch to something that doesn't fit his business. We're in a better position today for a lot of that business because we have the right product now, the right infrastructure in place to actually conquest those guys' business, one for one."
Mr. Detore is editor of Tire Business. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]; 330-865-6126; Twitter: @dondetore.