AURORA, Colo. — One might say that the invention of the automobile — from German Karl Benz's initial invention of gas-powered internal combustion engines in 1885 to Henry Ford's introduction of the Model T in America in 1908 — got off to a rocky start.
Though the automobile allowed people to get around faster and easier and to explore new places, most people despised the invention.
In fact, Goodyear CEO and President Rich Kramer told dealers at the company's recent annual dealers conference the automobile was so reviled — "They saw cars as dirty and dangerous and out of control because they were going faster than anything they had seen before (and) were knocking down people as they going around," he said — people threw rocks at automobiles in protest.
They preferred, instead, what they knew, which was the horse and carriage.
Mr. Kramer said one pundit called driving "one of the most contemptible soul-destroying pursuits."
Why did that happen? Mr. Kramer told dealers the answer is simple: "Most people couldn't see the possibility. They didn't see what was coming. They didn't have any reference point from what motorized vehicles could do for their lives, for industry, for the economy, for the world."
Compare that, Mr. Kramer said, to the mobility revolution that is happening today: the dawn of what Goodyear has labeled FACE: Fleets, Autonomous vehicles, Connectivity and Electric vehicles.
"There's a good lesson in there for us," he said. "Back then, some others knew this was something that could change things forever, even if they didn't completely understand it."
Mr. Kramer delivered the keynote address Feb. 4 to around 1,400 Goodyear dealers and their guests — as well as another 800 Goodyear and exhibitor associates — during the annual Goodyear Customer Conference, held at the Gaylord Rockies Convention Center.
The conference — with a theme of "Built to Lead" — featured a trade show, breakout seminars and networking sessions, including an emphasis on women in the tire industry. The conference concluded Feb. 4 with a Night of Stars, featuring comedian Sebastian Maniscalco.
The introduction of the internal combustion vehicle was what Mr. Kramer calls mobility's first "inflection point," defined as a permanent shift in how we think or act. Mobility's second inflection point, he said, is extremely similar to what people experienced in the 1890s.
"There are many changes coming out there that we simply can't understand, that we can't comprehend, or we can't visualize," Mr. Kramer said. "All of us are faced with a choice.
"We can look at all these trends ... as really contemptible. We could throw metaphorical rocks at EVs or AVs. Or we could simply could ignore it all today."
He implored dealers to learn from Frank Sieberling, founder of the Akron-based tire maker, as well as the founders of their businesses, to see the possibilities of the future and use this inflection point to their advantage.
Mr. Kramer identified three "Ps" for the company and its customers to succeed in the "new mobility ecosystem" — Plan, partnership and purpose.
Mr. Kramer touted the benefit of devising a sound plan, one that "provides clarity and direction ... discipline and process and ... makes the most out of your strengths."
He told dealers the success of Goodyear as well as its dealers can be traced to each's ability to plan for the future, whatever it might bring.
"(Your founders) did their homework," Mr. Kramer said. "They knew they were blessed with opportunity. ... They planned for the long term, and they changed that plan as needed.
"They didn't know what the future would hold for them, but they knew they wanted to be part of it," Mr. Kramer said, as evidenced by reinvesting in their business, their brands and their people.
Goodyear, he said, discusses its plans with dealers each year during the conference. Once such instance, he said, is Goodyear's work in manufacturing and refining the intelligent tire, one that has its own digital signature and digital fingerprint. Integrating the intelligent tire into an AV's driving system will help improve performance, safety and efficiency, he asserted.
That plan, he said, is more than five years in the making.
Having a plan is one of Goodyear's strengths, one he told dealers they should replicate.
"What options do you see?" Mr. Kramer asked. "How will you reinvest in people and skills to take advantage of those changes that we see coming? Is your plan focusing sales figures of today, or building your business for the long term?"
"If a big part of your business is oil changes, how will you service EVs that don't require oil? What will you do with drivetrain and transmissions experts when cars no longer have drivetrains? Does your plan include ways to embrace these coming changes? Or are you going to throw rocks and keep them away?"
In order to execute a plan, Mr. Kramer said, a dealer must collaborate with a tire maker and the customers in order to achieve success.
He told dealers that their founders chose to be partners with Goodyear, putting their trust in the brand, its products, its people and its vision.
"Goodyear and all of your individual businesses can only be great if the plans are implemented together," Mr. Kramer said.
"To be built to lead, we must be built to collaborate, and we can't execute a plan without it."
Part of the partnership, he said, is preparing Goodyear and its dealers to be ready for the changes in mobility.
"At Goodyear, we're going to be prepared to meet those opportunities, to earn your trust and earn your partnership to move forward in the next phase of mobility, and that, all of you can count on."
A plan and a partnership doesn't succeed, Mr. Kramer told dealers, without a purpose.
"We have a plan, we have a goal, we have a strategy, but more than that, we have a purpose," he said. "It is why we exist. It has us striving for the greater good. And it has us doing things beyond simply selling a product or a service."
Goodyear's purpose, Mr. Kramer said, "is to enable mobility to make life's connections easier every day."
"It's a common cause for all of us," Mr. Kramer said. "It binds us tougher from tire builders to sales people to accountants, to HR to engineers. It pulls us all together. It represents how we see ourselves and more importantly how others see us, and it certainly acts to inspire us."
Mr. Kramer lauded dealers for the work they do beyond selling tires and serving automobiles. He highlighted two instances where customers made a point to thank a specific dealer for service that went above and beyond.
"That's our purpose," Mr. Kramer said. "That's why we exist. As long as purpose guides us, it doesn't matter where the future of mobility goes. We're going to be there tougher, built to lead."