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Public Service: Educating Consumers About TPMS is the Biggest Challenge

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Com·mu·ni·ca·tion 1. The exchange of information between individuals, for example, by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs or behavior

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Bart Cavin is general manager of Ken’s Service Center’s three stores in two suburbs southwest of Baltimore – Columbia and Hanover. Combined, they provide tires and service in 26 bays at the three locations, and Cavin has been working for Ken’s, a family-operated business established in 1979, for the past 15 years.

Ken’s Service Center turns a nice profit and keeps up-to-date on all the latest technology and processes that the tire industry can throw at it. TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems) just happens to be the latest torque wrench thrown into the mix.

However, with the assistance of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), the business has conducted thorough on-site training programs with its personnel and believes it has all the physical tools and education in place to attack whatever problems might materialize with the new TPMSs. They believe they are fully prepared for the challenge – except for one issue.

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“We need communication with our customers and potential customers,” Cavin says without taking a breath. “The biggest issue is just communication – not just within the industry, because it’s publicized fairly well in our world – but consumers. Our customers don’t really know what’s going on. We have to explain it to them.”

TIA echoes Cavin’s comments.

“We recognize the need for consumer education,” says Kevin Rohlwing, TIA’s senior vice president of education and technical services. “We’re currently working on a number of approaches and getting the information to the consumer as efficiently as possible.”

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Rohlwing adds: “There are a lot of myths about TPMS, and we want to educate the motoring public about the truths and realities of the systems. There are primarily two issues that the consumer will have to face: The systems cost more, and they take more time (to maintain or repair).”

It seems, however, that TIA is the only group concerned right now about educating the public on the costs and complexity of TPMS.

“At this point, we are concentrating our efforts on educating our dealers and offering TPMS training,” says Pat Brown, vice president of global branding and communications for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. “We have not reached out to consumers yet.”

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A Goodyear spokesperson says his company is in a similar position, but adds:

“Goodyear recently released an online training course for our service/store personnel dealing with TPMS,” he says. “So, in effect, you could say ‘yes,’ we do offer advice and educational materials about TPMS to consumers/end-users because the whole reason we train our own people is so that they can educate consumers at the point of sale in the outlet.”

Cavin insists, though, that, while the tire manufacturers are doing a good job at training the dealers, there remains a void in communicating with the public.

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“Our communication process is getting harder,” Cavin says. “If we could get some education out there to the consumer, it would certainly help us do a better job.

“We need to let consumers know that the vehicle manufacturers are adding a very expensive component to the tire. A tire valve that used to cost $2.50 a piece now costs $100 or more. The consumers need to be aware of this before they come into the store. It would make our jobs a lot easier.”

Cavin supports efforts by TIA and the manufacturers to train dealers and retailers.

“TIA is trying to get it together,” he says. “They understand the tire business isn’t the same as it used to be. Now, you have aluminum wheels, and $600-$700 assemblies. Also, we don’t have low-end minimum wage employees working on a $50 product any more.

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“Our service technicians are very knowledgeable, but we need to educate the public on the new challenges, and I think the OEMs can help get certain things done. Vehicle manufacturers need to be up front and make their customers aware of the sensors being in place or the possible problems for the end users.”

Oddly enough, none of the major auto manufacturers had any material prepared for the public.

It isn’t surprising to Bill Vandewater at Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire (BFNAT).

“It’s even difficult for us (as tire manufacturers) to give information to the consumer,” says BFNAT’s consumer products sales engineering manager. “It’s a complicated system, but we believe the easiest way to communicate with the public is through the media.”

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Vandewater says that BFNAT works with TIA in the training process and even has its own Web site, located at www.tiresafety.com, to handle consumer/dealer inquiries.

In addition, the tiremaker supplies its dealers with a manual from Mitchell1 appropriately entitled, “The Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems Manual,” a 300-some-page compilation of how to deal with several systems.

Still, Cavin thinks the industry needs to start thinking about educating the consumer. “I started with TIA’s basic general tire course,” Cavin says. “But, there are not a lot of black-and-white answers right now. We have to get people thinking about TPMS.

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“What can be done? We are confronting the consumer at our front counter, and we make sure our salespeople know what’s going on, but it’s hard to get that ball rolling because things are changing so dramatically. We can do a lot of it on our own, and we could have posters and other material for the storeroom, etc.

“We could have just some little things like an awareness program or car care month with air-pressure checks and reminders, etc. It’s an easier job for us when the consumer is educated.

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“I’m surprised it’s not a hotter topic right now,” he concludes. “They are phasing it in, but once it becomes a daily concern, it’ll be hot. It’s a work in progress, but until all the cars get out there…”

 

 

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