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Goodyear promises Dunlop push: New high performance tire is just the beginning

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Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s unveiling of the new Dunlop SP Sport A2 high performance tire last month was more than a simple tire introduction, according to company officials. "This is the first salvo in what will be a significant cumulative building of the Dunlop brand," says Derek Jenner, Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd. vice president of sales and marketing (in photo).

Goodyear will push the brand harder than ever this year via several promotions. They include a "fairly significant" TV ad campaign, new point of purchase and showroom materials for dealers, credit card programs and a dedicated www.Spsporta2.com Web site. Boosting Dunlop's consumer awareness "is something we've wanted to do for years," Jenner says. "Goodyear understands that takes money. Dunlop has always had a great reputation, but we've never had the clout to take it to market."

Goodyear gained majority control of the Dunlop brand in early 1999 after finalizing a joint venture with Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. It plans to maintain Dunlop's broad-line and light truck tire segment presence while positioning it as a "youthful" brand and increasing its high performance market share.

However, company officials realize consumer acceptance won't skyrocket overnight. In fact, no market share goals for the brand have been established yet. "The plan is still evolving," Jenner says. (Modern Tire Dealer estimates the Dunlop brand holds a 2% share of the replacement passenger and light truck tire markets.)

Dealers say more Dunlop promotion is needed. "As recently as five or 10 years ago, 75% of people coming into my store knew the Dunlop name," says Darryl Burker, owner of Tire Systems Inc. in Lakewood, N.J. "Now you'd be lucky to get 50% who even know what it is, and I attribute that to lack of marketing."

Burker, who started selling Dunlop brand tires 15 years ago, believes Goodyear should capitalize on the label's reputation among performance buyers. "There's lots of potential, even on the light truck side."

"I haven't seen much Dunlop publicity in a long time," says Mike Wood, general manager of Zisser Tire in St. Louis, Mo. The brand nevertheless has a solid word-of-mouth buzz in his area, especially among more affluent customers. "I get people coming in asking for the Dunlop Sport 9000 on higher-end cars."

Wood says Goodyear should play up its connection to Dunlop. "They have a good reputation. Putting the two together would bring the Dunlop brand up even further."

"Goodyear will be well-served to spend additional marketing funds in support of the Dunlop brand," says Randy Clark, chairman of Dunn Tire Corp. in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Clark was Dunlop's chairman and CEO for several years in the late 1980s and early '90s. "Most people who look at it from afar see it as a niche item, but we find it has a very wide appeal. It's one of the oldest brands in the business with a great heritage."

Larry Lesieur, operations manager for Maynard & Lesieur Inc. in Nashua, N.H., says his Dunlop brand sales have dropped due to lack of consumer awareness. "The quality is excellent and the pricing is very competitive, but there's no marketing behind it. It's strictly a commodity item."

Maynard & Lesieur has been selling Dunlop products for nearly 15 years. "Goodyear has to find a way to differentiate (Dunlop) from the Goodyear and Kelly brands," he says. "Goodyear is pretty much known for performance and Kelly is value -- where do you put Dunlop? Dunlop is still floating out there."

The H-rated Dunlop SP Sport A2 will target top-line high performance competitors like the Yokohama Avid H4, the Bridgestone Potenza RE950, the Michelin Pilot XGT H4, the Continental ContiTouring CH95 and others; its closest Goodyear brand counterpart is the Eagle HP. The tire comes in 27 sizes that cover more than 90% of the H-rated replacement market, according to Ed Shaffer, Dunlop corporate manager of product marketing. "It gives dealers the ability to fit any H-rated vehicle that rolls into their shops."

The SP Sport A2 contains a variety of features to ensure all-season performance, according to officials. They include a non-directional asymmetrical tread design for responsive handling; wide circumferential and "sweeping intermediate" tread grooves for efficient water evacuation; a "dual-phase" compound for increased grip; and Dunlop's "Jointless Nylon Band" overlay technology for improved tire uniformity and ride comfort. It will replace the nine-year-old Dunlop D60A2.

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