'We want to turn General upside down'

April 1, 2007

"The General brand has a 90-plus-year history in this country and I think that maybe we, as a company, have forgotten that over the past few years," Andreas Gerstenberger, executive vice president for Continental Tire North America Inc.'s PLT replacement tire business unit, told some 200 members of the company's Gold Dealer program group in San Antonio, Texas, last month.

CTNA has made the revitalization of General a top goal for 2007. The company plans to promote General as the "All-American brand... with a young, innovative product portfolio," including tires like the General Altimax RT and HP that are set to replace older products like the General G4S and GS60.

New sizes also are in the works. The Altimax line will be available in 68 sizes by the third quarter. The Altimax Arctic winter tire line will be available in 26 studdable sizes later this year.

Meanwhile, the General Exclaim UHP line will be increased by at least 50 sizes and the General Grabber UHP's size line-up will increase by 11.


Needed changes

While Continental will remain CTNA's flagship brand, company officials told dealers that the new General tires have all the technology of a premium label product, plus some extra features.

For example, Altimax HP contains a stamp imprinted on its center rib that reads "Replacement Tire Monitor." As the tread wears away, the inscription changes to read "Replace Tire," indicating that a tire change is needed.

Such features are easy for dealers to sell and consumers to grasp, said CTNA CEO Matthias Schonberg. "The consumer doesn't normally enter a tire shop with a decision already made as to what to buy. It's the dealer who helps him."

Continental and General brand tire dealers told Modern Tire Dealer that it was time for CTNA to invest in General products.

"A good-priced performance tire is needed," said Dan Ross, owner of Fishkill Tire Co., a single-store dealership in Fishkill, N.Y.

"Certain brand names seem to fall off the map for a while," said Vito Gerbino, owner of The Tire Place in Queens, N.Y. "General was one of them."

Gerbino said the new General brand tires will sell well if CTNA prices them correctly.


Pricing issues

Carl Casalbore, CTNA's director of independent tire dealer sales, addressed pricing during the meeting.

"We don't want to discount our brands. General has a slot within your product screen to be competitive."

CTNA will focus on quarterly programs. "Going back a year ago, we had programs that were monthly, weekly and daily. We're getting away from that."

Caslabore said CTNA has relied on creating demand "through the original equipment route, which is a very difficult arena. Now, we'll be supporting (demand) with advertising and brand awareness.

"In the past, we've been trying to push through with pricing. We're not doing that anymore. We're trying to get customers to come through your door and ask for the product."

Helping CTNA achieve this will be a new logo for General, plus a consumer-oriented promotion called "Take It to the Max," in which the General brand will be the name sponsor of a music tour and a contest that will give away a 2007 Mustang GT, among other prizes.

"You find a lot of (tire dealers) who have 20 different brands," said Schonberg. "We'd like to give them the option of focusing on a premium-level product with Continental and another possibility with General."