Our latest report from the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit:
The Michelin Bibendum keeps on rolling—and so do the French giant’s tires. From a marketing standpoint, Michelin keeps taking new approaches to promoting understanding and appreciation of a product that many consumers look at through a commodity lens.
One thing Scott Clark, chairman and president of Michelin North America, did this week at the 2018 North American International Auto Show was tie Michelin’s tires to the fastest vehicles on earth.
Clark is at that show to meet with customers and highlight the brand’s value in the marketplace, including accolades like the fact that Michelin Premier A/S Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires—the same high-end ones that consumers can actually buy— were on the wheels of the Koenigsegg Agera RS when it recently torched land-speed records in Nevada, reaching a record 284 mph on a public road.
Introduced in 2014, the Michelin Premier A/S family will add 14 new sizes in the most popular dimensions this year, resulting in a total of 59 sizes that cover most demand in the U.S. and overseas.
“They do more for drivers while using less rubber on the tread” and even when half-worn stop shorter on wet roads than competitors’ brand-new tires, Clark commented.
Promoted to chairman and president of Michelin North America on January 1st after more than a decade as EVP and COO, Clark is responsible for leading and growing Michelin’s $4B passenger and light truck business in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, where it has more than 9,000 employees and ten manufacturing plants.
Besides coming up with new tires and features and pressing the technology envelope, he wants to establish Michelin as the industry leader in helping consumers, regulators and others understand the importance of worn-tire performance and the financial, safety and environmental costs of their premature replacement.
The current industry standard is to test performance only for new tires, explained Clark, recently promoted to the U.S. chief’s job for the French supplier. But those attributes begin changing the moment a tire is used, and braking performance by worn tires—especially wet-braking performance—varies even more among brands than it does for new tires.
That means consumers make purchase decisions based on factors that become less and less relevant the more they drive on the tires. “Drivers can’t see and often don’t understand technological factors that make one tire different from another,” Clark said. “We believe we should help consumers understand that worn tires perform differently than new ones and can exhibit very different performance levels over the course of their lives.”
Clark talked with brandchannel at the 2018 NAIAS in Detroit.
You just became chief of Michelin in North America. What is your biggest opportunity for growth here?
We’ve been the reference in terms of product performance and quality. Now we want to bring the experience level of customers to the same level—customers and dealers. How do we significantly improve the experience of doing business, service levels, and the interface of information to make it seamless, with better value added, and quality? We want to bring the experience level of customers to the same level, and dealers.
What’s at stake if you don’t?
The world has changed. In the old days you could have the best product in the category and win. Today having the best product is a considerable asset and is critically important, but not sufficient. Our opportunity lies more with the people between us and the consumer, including category management and information we can provide to our customers to make it easy for them to look at us as trusted experts.
What’s the growth opportunity in the tire business? “Printing” them in the home garage so people can have different tires for different types of driving?
If you look at our concept tire [on the display floor at NAIAS] and think longer term, we’re thinking about using recycled materials, maybe way out there for a 3D-printed tread that you could use based on your actual needs at the time and how you use that vehicle. But that’s pretty far down the road. In between, we’re doing things like outfitting a tire with an RFID chip and it’ll tell how it’s performing and when it needs replacement.
How are you messaging around the benefit of having some of the longest-lasting tires or tires that work best after wear?
It’s an important consumer safety and environmental message, and it’s a big, long-term and important discussion to begin. It’ll take some time but we’re committed to doing that over the long haul. The discussion of long-lasting performance is not necessarily intuitive. We will begin to share test results to ensure that trusted third parties do worn-tire testing. Most of them thus far focus on new-tire testing.
So more third-party testing is a priority?
We’re getting other people on board and getting some of the information out there, and we’re sharing it with dealers and consumers.
We know how we design tires and have done lot of testing. We have products that are extraordinarily good like the Koeniggsberg tires, but also our mainstream products perform significantly better than (our) competitors’. Because of our design philosophy we’ve always had tires that perform well after wear, but some competitors design tires to perform well when they’re tested new.
Whether the industry over time needs some standard or rating system for worn-tire performance remains to be seen. But having a discussion about that from a consumer safety and environmental standpoint is important.