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As has been done in nearly every meeting the company has had for the past three years, Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire’s (BFNAT) annual commercial dealer meeting – Bizcon ®€“ reinforced the idea that the tiremaker and its dealers need each other.

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Bizcon 7 Brings Manufacturer, Dealers Together to Celebrate Their Hard Work

As has been done in nearly every meeting the company has had for the past three years, Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire’s (BFNAT) annual commercial dealer meeting – Bizcon ®“ reinforced the idea that the tiremaker and its dealers need each other.

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The seventh installment of Bizcon – held at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Apr. 23-25 ®“ entitled "Exselleration" was, by all accounts of those present, a success. Dealers attended two general session meetings and a mini trade show, and had their choice from among 15 different seminars.

"Are you ready for some Bizcon? Are you ready for ‘exselleration’?" asked Singh Ahluwalia, recently promoted president of BFNAT’s Truck and Bus Tires unit, opening the event. "I hope so, because this is your conference. Everything you’ll see, hear and discover during the next two days has been created for you.

"Bizcon continues to be about discussing, exploring and discovering, side by side, new ways in which we can create the highest value for the end-user – for you."

The term "exselleration" used as Bizcon’s theme is a combination of the words "excellence," "sales" and "accelerating."

At no point was the side-by-side feeling more evident than when John Lampe, chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Holding (BAH), took the stage during the first general session to a standing ovation and thunderous applause.

"I don’t know any other way to describe 2002 than this, a major step forward towards renewed leadership, beginning with the consolidated global performance of Bridgestone Corp.," he said. Then, alluding to 2000’s Firestone Wilderness recalls, Lampe offered, "Not so long ago, some of the press, some of our competitors, some of the so-called financial and marketing experts predicted that BFS wouldn’t make it. (They) predicted we’d go out of business.

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"Last year (at Bizcon 6 in New Orleans), I stood before you and told you what I thought about those suggestions. I said that none of those people knew us. They didn’t know how proud we were of our company and our products. They didn’t know how strong our partnership with our dealers was, and they didn’t realize what the power of our faith and trust in one another could do."

And, to drive home his point, Lampe said Bridgestone Corp. posted net sales of $18 billion for 2002, while BAH reported a net profit of $83 million. BFNAT even posted consolidated net sales of $3.7 billion.

The company’s expectation for the coming years? More of the same.

"I think I can best summarize our 2003 goals with four words – make progress; make money," said Mark Emkes, chairman, president and CEO of BFNAT. "If you think about it, making progress is necessary to making money. And making money is certainly necessary to invest in progress.

"It’s no longer enough to know what the end-user’s needs are today. And, it’s no longer enough to know what your competitors are doing. What has become critical today is to know where the end-user is going tomorrow and to be able to out-maneuver, out-adopt and out-adapt any competitor to ensure that together, we cross the finish line first – side by side."

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Making progress in the truck tire industry might seem difficult and requires everyone involved to do their very best, according to Ahluwalia.

"Unfortunately, the state of the truck tire industry is no laughing matter," he said. "Out-of-control raw material costs. Outrageous oil and fuel price increases – the highest in 10 years. Overcapacity. An influx of third and fourth tier imports. The looming TREAD Act ®“ and no one’s quite sure how much that will cost. Downward price pressures on every fleet creating downward price pressures on all of us.

"Let’s face it, we’re all being challenged by one of the toughest market environments we’ve ever seen."

The Fleet Side View

And what is making the truck tire market tough? While fleets could start seeing turnarounds by the end of this year, there are still several negatives that could impact the market’s recovery, and hence, impact truck tires, according to Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

"While freight volumes have improved, tonnage has still been growing below the trend line since the mid-1980s," Costello told the dealers in attendance. "On average, since 1985, tonnage has increased 6% annually."

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Then, however, freight tonnage went through the floor during the recession, contracting 8.5% between 2000 and 2001 combined. The 4% growth reported for 2002 is certainly better than a recession, but "truck tonnage has flattened out in recent months," Costello said.

Also, long-haul truckload carriers, less-than-truckload carriers and small truckload carriers have seen a reduction in freight.

"Freight volumes for small truckload carriers have yet to recover from the recession, although we have finally seen glimpses of improvement in recent months," Costello said. "And make no mistake about it, small carriers are very important to the trucking industry. Ninety percent of all trucking companies – over 500,000 of them ®“ operate just 20 or fewer trucks."

After the general sessions, dealers were free to attend various seminars that ranged in topic from managing human behavior to getting higher prices to keeping the best employees.

But perhaps the most popular seminar attendance-wise was the final day’s "The TREAD Act & Product Future Scope" conducted by David Laubie, executive director of engineering.

In short, Laubie explained that unlike with passenger tires, NHTSA wasn’t rushing to come up with TREAD Act regulations for truck tires and retreads. However, he offered that he believes new and retreaded tires will have very similar standards to adhere to – standards Laubie believes will not eliminate retreads altogether.

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"(NHTSA) understands they can’t just make a rule on truck tires, and they don’t have the urgency they did with passenger tires," said he. "And they don’t want to punish retreads."

Dealers See Benefit

For their part, nearly all of the 400 dealers in attendance found the three-day event worthwhile.

"You’ve got to take this in because it’s so important," said Richard Hudson of Hudson’s Tire Centers Inc. in Ardmore, Okla. "It’s always interesting, they’ve got great topics and capable people. Dealers should always go."

Said Bobby Harms, Fort Worth, Texas-based Grays Wholesale Tire’s director of government sales, "You really learn a lot here with the seminars and everything they have available to dealers. Plus, you get to meet different dealers from across the country face to face."

But seminars and executive speeches weren’t everything on the docket during Bizcon 7. The tiremaker also unveiled eight new truck tires.

On display were the new Bridgestone-branded R195F (regional/long haul trailer tire), R227F (auto hauler steer tire), R260F (drive, steer and trailer tire for special service, regional and P&D), R280 (long distance and regional steer tire), M725 (long/regional haul and P&D drive tire), and M729F (auto hauler drive tire).

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The Firestone brand had the new FD690Plus (long/regional haul drive tire) and the FS560Plus (regional/P&D haul drive, steer and trailer tire).

Bridgestone/Firestone dealers also got a sneak peak at several prototype tires. Six steer and five drive tires were on display (under guard) for dealers to see, touch and talk about.

According to Guy Walenga, engineering manager for North American commercial products, all of the prototypes are currently begin field tested with various fleets. The tiremaker feels real-world testing is the only way to get an accurate read on how its tires will perform.

Of the different components being tested is a new equalizer rib – which is shallower and sits with tread to absorb many of the forces that cause irregular wear ®“ and rubber compounds with lower rolling resistance, which will attempt to reduce fuel costs.

Next year’s Bizcon 8 will be held in Chicago

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