NASSAU, Bahamas—Continental Tire the Americas will go to market this year under a new banner—“Innovative Technology. Driving Confidence”—which represents a maturing of the brand in the marketplace, CTA executives told dealers recently in Nassau attending the 2010 Gold Dealer incentive trip.
The new tagline replaces “Tires Engineered in Germany” and will be part of all CTA advertising and promotional efforts, according to CTA Vice President Bill Caldwell, who also noted CTA is hoping to pump up its brand awareness via a pair of new promotional vehicles: sponsorship of Major League Soccer and Grand Am Racing.
Conti claims it gained market share last year in the shrinking North American market and the company's top aftermarket sales executives are confident the firm's combined Continental- and General-brand market share should improve again this year under the new tagline.
In particular, Conti reported sales gains of nearly 60 percent in the ultra-high-performance, all-season sector and 21 percent in the winter tire segment.
CTA tested seven promotional slogans before settling on the new one, CTA Marketing Director Travis Roffler said. “It's our new 'mantra,' if you will,” he told more than 400 Gold Dealer program attendees aboard the Majesty of the Seas cruise liner docked at Nassau.
Roffler described CTA's new promotional vehicles as “endemic” (Grand Am) and “non-endemic” (MLS) but said Conti is working on ways to tie the two together.
Roffler encouraged Gold Program dealers to get involved with either or both of these vehicles, noting CTA is organizing fan zones and other on-site promotional activities dealers can tie into.
There are 18 MLS teams—Conti is considered the “official tire” of all 18 teams—and a dozen Grand-Am racing weekends to pick from, he noted, as well as hundreds of other motorsports events Conti's affiliated with in off-roading, truck pulling, etc.
CTA also plans to return to the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show this year after not exhibiting in 2009.
Conti previewed two tires being launched this year, the ProContact Eco-Plus+ and a street version of the General Grabber competition off-road tire.
These new products reflect a “real technology competence” Conti has based in large part on its experience with OE customers, Caldwell told the dealers.
The company is rolling out the new products in a market Conti sees as primed for a rebound. Caldwell told the dealers CTA expects the U.S. tire market to return to 2008 levels this year, based on shipment increases in the first quarter over 2009.
Preliminary numbers for March show the market actually exceeding the March 2008 numbers, he said.
Getting enough tires to fill dealers' demands, though, could be challenging because most tire makers reduced production last year and trimmed inventories, Caldwell said.
The U.S. industry's inventory levels fell to about 30 million units toward year-end, he said, citing industry data. Inventories traditionally fall in the range of 40 million to 50 million tires, he added.
As the signs of recovery started in the fourth quarter, tire makers—including CTA—started ramping up production again, Caldwell said, noting that the company has resumed some capital investments it had suspended in the midst of last year's downturn.
Dealers attending the Gold Dealer meeting confirmed fill rates on key products have been a concern and welcomed CTA's efforts to rectify the situation.
Now in its sixth year of existence, the Conti Gold program has matured and is evolving more steadily, Caldwell said. As such, Conti announced only a slight tweak to the program, increasing the minimum sales number for the Elite Dealer level to 2,000 tires from 1,800.
Conti also disclosed it has revamped its field sales structure into 24 territories under four regions, which should result in more company rep visits per dealer, according to Jim Sicking, director of sales. The regional managers are Kevin Gilhuley, northeast; Sean McDermaid, southeast; Dave Bjorkman, northwest; and Dee Dee Otto, west. They report to Sicking through Chris Charity, national sales manager.