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Editor's Notebook

Misc. Folder: NTSW, Checkoffs, Greening, Spending, Shops & a Really Odd EU Scheme

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You don’t necessarily see all of this, but I find it quite interesting to watch so many tiremakers, car dealers and non-tire dealer retailers jump aboard the National Tire Safety Week boat. Come April, we get flooded with news about free inflation pressure checks, tire gauges, educational events, press conferences, spokespeople…the list goes on and on.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think NTSW is an important program, and it’s great to see so many take an active role. But I think it is fair to ask: What about the other 358 days of the year?

With won’t-find-it-if-you-don’t-look-for-it tiremaker Web pages and equally scarce brochures, dealers are expected to carry the education load and teach their customers about the value of tire technology, care and maintenance. The industry as a whole is not doing much of a job supporting them.

And I’m afraid it is not going to get any better. TIA has all but tossed in the towel on its checkoff program idea. The concept (unfortunately) gained no traction with RMA member tiremakers. With NHTSA supposedly at work on its new tire fuel efficiency “education program” mandate (read: another elaborate tire grading scheme), it looks like the industry is going to let the government do all of the talking.

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Let your mind wander and consider just how well the government is going to represent for your industry, your business, your livelihood. PSAs at 3 a.m. anyone?

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The once-a-year NTSW pile-on reminds me of the “green” bandwagonning going on everywhere. Can’t switch a TV channel or flip a magazine page without seeing something about someone’s “green initiatives.”

This’ll all shake out, I’m sure, and the pretenders will be outed when consumers get tired of meaningless and unsubstantiated green claims. Companies will be held to measureable standards, and those that don’t measure up will get landfilled. Make no mistake, the world’s interest in cleaning up its mess is very real, not some fanciful fad.

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Bureau of Economic Analysis looked at consumer spending trends since November 2007. On the incline were TVs (well, it was before Christmas) at a 4.2% increase, bank fees and service charges (ouch!) up 1.6%, and medical services (double ouch, up 0.8%). Declining was spending on food (-0.2%), clothing (-0.4%), alcohol (-1.1%) computers (-2.9%), jewelry (-3.9%) and vehicles and parts (-1.9%). People are spending more on bank charges than their rides…what does that tell you?

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When Americans do spend on vehicle repairs, guess who gets the business? According to Consumer Reports, you do. Independent repair shops (including tire dealers) trounced new car dealer service in a May 2008 CR reader survey of customer satisfaction. A whopping 71% said they were very satisfied using independents vs. car dealers; only 53% preferred car dealer service centers. The study also broke down responses by vehicle nameplate, and the story was the same across the board. The survey, by the way, polled some 100,000 drivers who took their vehicles to car dealers and 46,000 who went to indie shops. Worst? VW dealers at 42% satisfied. Best? Acura and Lexus tied at 64%.

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Still under consideration is a European Union proposal that could effectively prevent consumers from buying the tires of their choosing. Tied to quite strict vehicle CO2 emission standards, the plan would force owners of vehicles equipped with eco-friendly tires to stick to that exact tire come replacement time. European carmakers can use a variety of options – including biofuels, low-energy air conditioning and low rolling resistance tires – to meet the tougher CO2 emission standards. In order to pass inspections, though, motorists would be forced to go same/same on replacement tire – which won’t be wallet-friendly. Our friends at Tyres & Accessories in the U.K. have postulated that such legislation could result in a “de facto ban on tyres designed with more generic cars in mind” (read: cheaper tires).

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There is no telling if this plan will reach fruition. Suffice it to say, tiremakers are not impressed. As T&A reported, Pirelli Tyre chief Francesco Gori has suggested “that EU-regulators are already asking the impossible from tyre manufacturers,” and want tiremakers to “shoulder too much of the burden.”

Sound at all familiar?

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