New tire lines, increased marketing and sales support for dealers, and a “doubling down” on a consumer focus were the major highlights made during the Bridgestone Consumer Tire Business Meeting held last week in Los Angeles. Company officials said roughly 200 dealers were in attendance.
The company announced it would be launching four Firestone tire lines during 2017. Erik Seidel, vice president of consumer sales in the U.S. and Canada for the Consumer Tire Sales Division of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC (BATO), said the company was delivering on its promise from last year that it would upgrade 100% of its Firestone line in three years. The four new lines represent 56% of that total in just the first year.
1. The Firestone All-Season tire is being launched in March for passenger sizes with additional sizes coming on-stream in August. John Baratta, president of consumer replacement tire sales, in the U.S. and Canada for the Consumer Tire Sales Division, said the tire is “the lowest priced Firestone tire and will compete in the 'good' category.”
The company calls the tire “a quality tire at a great value." It will have a 65,000-mile limted tread wear warranty for all sizes except for CUV sizes, which will carry a 55,000-mile warranty. It will come in 49 sizes (32 passenger and 17 CUV) ranging from 185/65R14 to P255/55R20.
2. The Firestone Transforce AT2 is being launched in April to replace the Transforce AT line. The company said the tire outperforms its predecessor in all categories. It will be available in 16 sizes ranging from LT215/85R16 to LT275/65R20. Seidel said the tire will provide coverage for 95% of the light truck tire market.
3. The Firestone Destination M/T2 is coming in July and will succeed the current Destination line. It features a new tread compound, three-ply sidewall construction, and more aggressive upper sidewall lugs. It will come in 29 sizes ranging from LT235/75R15 to 37x13.50R22.5LT. The tire is engineered for SUVs and pick-up trucks.
4. The Firestone Winterforce 2 and Winterforce 2 UV are also being launched in July. The tires are studdable and feature a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake designation. They will provide a 14% increase in coverage from the previous Winterforce line and will come in 52 sizes, ranging from 185/65R14 to P275/65R18.
On the Bridgestone side, a new Dueler H/T 685 heavy-duty light truck tire line is being launched in March. It will be fitted on the original equipment side and will replace several previous Dueler lines to simplify inventory for dealers on the replacement side. The tire will come in 17 sizes and offers coverage for 96% of the light truck tire market, says Seidel. The sizes range from LT215/85R16 to LT285/60R20 and will carry a 50,000-mile warranty.
Also during 2017, the company will expand its DriveGuard run-flat line with new sizes in the 17-inch to 20-inch range. The line will offer 67% coverage for passenger cars, added Seidel.
The Fuzion line is being expanded with a Fuzion A/T limited line in nine sizes designed to cover 50% of the market. It will start shipping in January with a 45,000-mile warranty. The Fuzion Touring line will also be available in two new sizes next year: 255/60R19 and 245/60R18.
Bridgestone will continue its marketing and promotions with the NHL, NFL and the PGA in 2017, citing its successes with those programs in 2016. Philip Dobbs, chief marketing officer for BATO, showed gains that the Bridgestone and Firestone brands have made since 2012.
Dobbs said the company’s research showed an 8% increase in unaided awareness for the Bridgestone brand to roughly 25% from 2012-2016, with familiarity increasing 117% to about 25%. The Firestone brand grew 2% in unaided awareness among consumers to 47%. Its familiarity rating grew 107% to about 31%.
The company showcased its Tire Navigator that it says brings new insights and data regarding inventory management to dealers that is not available elsewhere. The program is designed to increase a dealer’s inventory turns and overall sales by finding gaps in product assortments within specific trade areas.
Tire Connect is another tool Bridgestone showed to dealers. The company says its research shows 83% of consumers go online before they buy, with 1.2 billion searches each year. Bridgestone told dealers that 9% of consumers buy tires online, and it believes that number will grow: 56% of the consumers surveyed by Bridgestone said they may buy online in the future.
Tire Connect is designed to drive consumers to retail dealers. BATO’s digital guru, Michael Fluck, emphasized that dealers would “get full credit” for the sale. The company also announced its Side-by-Side point-of-sale kiosk that eliminates the counter from the selling process. The computer screen is designed to allow the salesperson to show the consumer tire comparisons and prices along with selling features.