Michelin North America (MNA) has been on the leading edge of tiremaker involvement in B2C Internet services, first with its limited BFGoodrich Scorcher T/A sales effort in 2000, and now with its controversial Tire Advisor system available on AOL portal sites.
Pete Selleck, executive vice president and COO of MNA’s Michelin Americas Small Tire unit, sat down with Tire Review to discuss the concept behind Tire Advisor, the system’s successes and disappointments, how it has been received by Michelin dealers, the controversy behind Tire Advisor’s tire testing, and where Michelin sees the system heading in the future. The full text of this interview, with Selleck’s comments on other key issues, is available online at www.tirereview.com.
Where did the idea for Tire Advisor come from?
Will you be expanding Tire Advisor into other online portals in the future?
"When we rolled this out to all levels of the company it was not well-received, particularly on the technical side of our company. The testing process we used showed that, in certain areas, some of our products did not receive the highest marks in every category. But we concluded that in order to improve ourselves and solve consumer concerns, it had to be that way.
"Ultimately, consumers would reject any model they felt was not giving them a totally truthful result. We tried to build this the way we would have built it if we were consumers and had no interest in the financial outcome."
Are users going through the process to the point where they are contacting a dealer about the tires they want?
"Most dealers who sell our products are eligible to be accessed on Tire Advisor. We have some areas where we’ve tried it and it’s worked beautifully, but we have some where it hasn’t worked yet. A lot of it has to do with a dealer’s ability to integrate this approach.
"We haven’t tried to detour consumers to us. The dealer has a role in this process, and consumers still need to have their tires installed. Consumers don’t just want a request for quote. They want live information, live pricing and live availability. We’ve built the site with this in mind and opened it up for dealers to get involved.
"The request-for-quote portion of the site is not an end in and of itself. It’s a step. Consumers want to have multiple ways to navigate through a purchasing process. Most often, they’re going to go online and do their research, print out the results and walk into a dealership to order tires. But we’re not trying to prescribe which specific route they need to go. We’re trying to open up more routes and put consumers in a position of greater satisfaction.
"What we’re trying to do is give the consumer enough information to understand a product that isn’t that complicated. We’re all learning. This is an interactive process, not a final product."
Is there a particular demographic that has really embraced this, or is it across the board?
Tire Advisor tests tires for various applications from multiple manufacturers. How do you handle the tire testing involved?
Do you plan to introduce special services for the performance market?
"What we tried to do is to create a tool that is more focused on the center of the market. The average person who goes to Tire Rack’s site and sees information on plus-sizing may be overwhelmed. So, we tried to make a very simple tool. There are other tools on the Internet that are better suited for somebody who really wants to customize."
As you have said, it’s an ongoing process. So, what’s next?
"Our current version includes UTQG mileage ratings, and those are based on low-severity tests. On long-mileage tires, the results we were getting in testing didn’t correlate to feedback we were getting on our products and on our competitors’ products. So, for 80,000-mile tires, we added a high-severity wear test to the UTQG results.
"Low-severity wear is a good predictor of mileage in Texas because Texas has aggregates in its pavement that are softer. However, in South Carolina, where there is a much harder aggregate in the road, a high-severity wear test is the better predictor of potential mileage. We think that’s the right way to handle long-mileage tires. And, every year, we are going to look at the tests and try to improve them and make them more relevant to real-world conditions."
What will this mean in the future?
"So, if you’re in Texas and are looking at long-mileage tires, it will give 100% of the treadwear criteria weight to the UTQG rating and zero to the high-severity test. It will also put lower weighting on snow handling and a higher weight on hydroplaning. This way, consumers will really get a more accurate rating for their particular needs."
What else are you considering?
"We’d like good quality tire dealers to be able to reap an appropriate premium for the service they’re delivering today. Right now, they probably aren’t getting the extra premium that they deserve.
"Beyond that, we envision that consumers will be able to go online to select their tire and select their store, as well as find out if that tire is available at a given store, how long it will take to get there if it’s not already in stock, and what that dealer’s pricing is for that product. That will be extremely powerful for dealers. That technology exists today, but it requires that each store is online and that its inventory and pricing is visible. We think that’s what the consumer ultimately wants.
"We’re not trying to dictate where the industry is going, but we know it is going to change. We think the change will be beneficial for consumers, and for the dealers, retailers and distributors that are truly consumer focused.
"We recognize that there might be some players out there that may not want this change to take place. But our objective is not to protect poor performers. Our objective is to help the consumer."
- Business Operations
- Club 3633
- EV Bizz
- Guess the Tool
- Top Shop