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That First Step

It’s been another tough year for the economy and the tire industry. All you have to do is look at tire shipments. Dealers I’ve spoken to tell me their businesses are up one month and down the next. Consumer confidence appears to be on the same roller coaster.

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That First Step

It’s been another tough year for the economy and the tire industry. All you have to do is look at tire shipments. Dealers I’ve spoken to tell me their businesses are up one month and down the next. Consumer confidence appears to be on the same roller coaster.

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We do seem to be making some headway in one important area: consumer education. Individual efforts by dealers, tiremakers and our associations to teach consumers about the importance of proper inflation and tire care are bearing some fruit.

But it’s a story we must tell and tell again. The great John Wooden had a simple coaching philosophy: tell them, show them, make them do it, correct them, then make them do it again. If tires are going to shake their Rodney Dangerfield image and get some respect consistent repetition is vital.

Consumers need to revisit their automotive safety priority list. If they don’t do a better job maintaining their tires, they will have to depend on the performance of their seat belts and airbags.

In reshaping consumer understanding and perception, we certainly feel that National Tire Safety Week is good for this industry and needs to be backed at every level. As I said, the individual efforts are great, but one major push by everyone would be far more effective. Every dealer, every manufacturer needs to get involved.

During the Great Depression, many Americans drove their tires bald to put off the purchase of new tires. As a result, there was a sharp increase in deadly car accidents. Edward Babcox, the late publisher of this magazine, rallied for a nationwide tire safety program to help get dangerous tires off the road – and, thereby, boost tires sales for dealers. It was a big success because dealers and tiremakers cooperated and promoted the program. The same results are possible for our current National Tire Safety Week ®“ if we all pull together.

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In his remarks at the recent ITE, former TIA president Steve Disney noted, "the general public doesn’t know that tires are some of the safest and highest-quality products available to the public today." That is a fundamental educational problem this industry must address. People know more about their digital toys than about their vehicles.

Here is some simple math: U.S. motorists drive 2.6 trillion miles per year. With at least four tires on each vehicle, that’s over 10 trillion tire miles per year. According to NHTSA, of the 6.3 million auto accidents posted last year, only about 23,000 crashes were attributable to tire performance. That means that less than 0.0037% of all accidents are tire performance-related. Look at it another way: That’s one tire-related accident for every 435 billion road miles driven. And in most of the cases when tires are blamed for an accident, improper tire care – plays a major role.

It’s quite obvious the products we imagine, develop, test, manufacture, sell and service are some of the most woefully under-valued and over-criticized goods of any kind on the market. We can and must do something about this and it all starts with the industry pulling together for one big push.

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Steve also said, "Lack of awareness of the facts leads to increased governmental intervention of our business. Ignorance of the facts leads the judicial system to judgments and settlements that severely penalize our industry."

It’s Steve’s last observation that brings me to a final point: tort reform. If we as an industry don’t take action to get our voice heard, nothing will happen to improve this disastrous situation. Lawyers see the tire industry as the golden goose. The well-publicized tire issues grabbed the public’s attention, but the tort reform problem has always been there. Look at the asbestos issue, or the current wave of fast food lawsuits.

If you have an "it will never happen to me" attitude, consider this: between 1988 and 1998, class action lawsuits in the U.S. increased by 1,000%!

An estimated $165 billion is spent annually on damages, legal fees and other litigation costs. And less than 50% of the actual awards or settlements end up in the hands of the plaintiffs! This is a very visible business, and we are all targets.

Peter Drucker said, "In times of turbulence we have to manage in a way to withstand sudden blows and avail ourselves of sudden unexpected opportunities." There is no doubt we are waist-deep in turbulent times. But we also have to start making our own opportunities. In 2003, let’s take that first step as a group so that we can all reap the benefits of deserved – and unexpected ®“ opportunities.

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Good luck in the coming year.

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