FORT WASHINGTON, Md.—A year ago—when the economy was less dire—1,340 independent Goodyear tire dealers and employees showed up at the company's annual dealer meeting.
And this year, when a recession has slammed the door on tire demand? About 10 more dealers showed up at a Feb. 1-4 in Fort Washington, just outside of Washington, D.C.
That validated Goodyear's decision to hold the meeting, according to Robert J. Keegan, Goodyear chairman and CEO.
“We really love our decision to go ahead with this conference, and from your applause I sense you do, too,” said Keegan in his keynote speech at the meeting.
Keegan and Richard J. Kramer, Goodyear president of North American tires, reiterated the meeting's theme: that the company and its dealers would overcome bleak financial times through a combination of product innovation, seizing current market opportunities, aggressive marketing and plain hard work.
“Many tire companies canceled their (dealer) meetings this year because of the economy, and that's understandable,” Kramer said. “For us, this was an investment, not a cost.”
Not only did Goodyear need to meet with its dealers face-to-face in this economic climate, but its dealers needed to talk to each other, Keegan and Kramer agreed. In times like these, they said, it's crucial for the whole Goodyear organization to work together to pull through and achieve success.
While 2009 won't be an easy time for the company or its dealers, this is actually a time for optimism for Goodyear, the executives said.
“The tire business is very different than a year ago, but it's still a great business to be in,” Kramer said. “You're in a business that sells products people need and people use. It's not like you're selling eight-track tapes in an iPod world. Tires are not a discretionary purchase, not a purchase you can put off indefinitely. Unless they establish a national monorail, people are going to keep using tires, and that's good for us.”
Everyone will have to make hard decisions to survive and prosper, Keegan said.
“You're all thinking about doing things you haven't done before,” he said. “Think about them, but not too long, then do them and move forward.”
Innovation and talent
Goodyear officials at the meeting pledged to supply dealers in 2009 and beyond with the most innovative tires on the market.
“We have not cut back one iota on our pledge to deliver new products,” Keegan said. “Innovation is the lifeblood of our strategy, and will remain so.”
The firm introduced 12 products in its consumer line alone, the most innovative of which were the Assurance Fuel Max all-season tire and the Wrangler MT/R tire with Kevlar.
Designed for the mid-tier market, the Assurance Fuel Max succeeds the original Assurance tire Goodyear introduced in 2004. The new tire offers 27-percent less rolling resistance than the original Assurance, without sacrificing traction or treadwear, Goodyear claims, which translates to 4-percent better fuel economy, saving 2,600 miles or $200 worth of fuel over the life of the tire.
The tire comes with a limited treadwear warranty of 65,000 miles. A few Assurance Fuel Max sizes are being shipped now, Goodyear said, and the full line of 27 sizes—covering 80 percent of the auto tire market—should be available by April.
The Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar boasts a layer of DuPont Co.'s Kevlar aramid fiber in the sidewall, giving the tire 35-percent more puncture resistance than its predecessor model, Goodyear said. Its “wrap-around” tread allows for enhanced sidewall traction in deep mud, sand and rocks.
The Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar will be available in 30 sizes starting in March, fitting all half-, three quarter- and one-ton pickups as well as such vehicles as the Jeep Wrangler, the Nissan Xterra, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and the Hummer F2 and F3, the company said.
In the commercial tire section, Goodyear introduced four tires for the trailer, regional and waste hauling markets.