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Downturns are overcome by providing tyres that continue to improve - whether they are new or retreads – and more customer services. At Autopromotec we observed the trends of the future that are increasingly oriented towards customer care in both the car and truck segments

Duilio Damiani

IT’S NOT just a matter of the label. Now that the first stage of the race for AA supremacy is over, manufacturers are allocating resources to a mainly stagnant market with shared focus deep-rooted in commercial strategies. A policy by which customers – historical or acquired – are at the centre of all types of services that go well beyond the initial stage of simply buying tyres.
From the trends observed during the recently-ended Autopromotec in Bologna, it is now clear that with regard to cars, certification has the undoubted advantage of immediately showing certain parameters on which to base a decision.  But the three taken as a reference – wet grip, rolling efficiency and noise – must be joined by all the factors the sum of which determine the special features of individual products and characterize ranges for very specific needs. And which do not escape more expert consumers, operators attentive to general quality, and market analysts whose task it is to generate more precise offers for the pressing needs of a detailed and demanding request for absolute quality in an increasingly hard-won area determined by the cost/benefit ratio.
A perspective that has widened and includes the truck segment, where circumstances resolutely drive customers towards the retread sector and products of a quality that is comparable to new tyres. A segment that is forcing firms to make significant investments in advanced machinery and top-level materials and is decreeing the survival only of those who have been able to evolve in step with a technologically advanced product.

A look at the fair
Those of you who were there for one or more of the five days of the most authoritative  biannual international exhibition dedicated to garage equipment and the automotive aftermarket, the 25th edition of which was this year, certainly ran the risk of being disoriented by the numerous aisles studded with stands dedicated to the tyre segment. As in the previous edition of Autopromotec two years ago,  an entire building with two pavilions (and more), 19 and 20, hosted more than a hundred  established, less well-known and emerging tyre brands, distribution  groups and firms dedicated to retreading. A considerable number, more than in the past, represented almost all the main players in the market, with updated ranges and answers designed to cope with the crisis and new requirements.
First and foremost the products, which acquire increasing authority through advanced technological solutions that, in the majority of cases, offer truly advanced characteristics compared to two years ago, and which can guarantee maximum performance in terms of grip and fuel efficiency, absolutely determining factors for direct comparisons with the ever numerous players in the west.  Technological evolution that must include an active presence in the European panorama for anyone who is able to build a factory in the territory, with distribution facilities and research and development centres. Being close to sales channels today means faster response to unexpected changes in requests – such as the seasonal upswing in winter tyres when the weather changes  –, minimizes transport costs and allows close examination of the problems in the complex continental panorama.
A trend that is seen also in the aftermarket rims sector, in this case concentrated in two well- defined levels: simpler and less expensive wheels dedicated primarily to fitted winter tyres, and wheels that are more sophisticated and expensive.
Rims for the set of winter tyres tend to copy original equipment styles so that they don’t radically change the aesthetics of individual models and there is an increasingly large variety for specific ranges of cars. Naturally, there are products conceived for tuning, where the pursuit of aesthetics prevails over the optimization of dynamic performance. Innovation and sought-after materials are obviously concentrated in this segment in order to offer products that are increasingly attractive,  with colours and finishes that are in line with the latest trends. And always with respect for quality.
Emerging during the fair was the changed conception of the alloy rim. Probably at one time its design was excessive, but nowadays  the alloy wheel is more elegant and discreet, even in the two-tone versions. Chromed wheels and the “bling bling” rims that were in fashion a few years ago have now left room for stylistic integration with the look of the vehicle. Just one regret with regard to size: as “important” vehicles have disappeared because of escalating taxes, the growth of the trend in rim sizes has been interrupted, so sales of 16” and 17” rims are being consolidated as bestsellers in the changeover market.

Networks and strategies
The extremely specialized tyre that is proposed nowadays is, for the majority of brands, an evolved and totally targeted product that will guarantee the best performance in the relevant segment.  The versatility of general products is gradually being lost –  with due compromises –  and the preference is for city, family and UHP applications for hybrids and SUVs, GTs and MPVs with higher load indices, dividing them as much as possible between summer and winter.
This was determined in particular by the national law and periodic local regulations on winter tyres, but also by superior properties, in terms of grip and safety, that a product for specific weather conditions can guarantee prudent drivers who are more knowledgeable thanks to the widespread newspaper reports of recent years. Increased mileage, storage and mounting services for the second set of tyres, available at tyre specialists, amortize the investment in tyres (and frequently also rims), by actually doubling mileage by alternating between the two sets. A choice that does not only apply to private users, but for some time now also to large fleets and rental companies.
It is winter tyres and the relevant services that are the targets of differentiated production, with at least three and more specific models for low temperatures proposed by all manufacturers. But targeted services don’t stop at this, they pour into workshops with all sorts of advertising tools, affiliation, even more or less binding franchising formulas, and end-user loyalty programmes However, they are formulas that could provide the tyre specialist with immediate services and access to priority lists and support their work with programmes studied to respond to the growth needs of structures in the territory. Talking of growth in difficult times is not utopian, because starting with tyres, the expansion of the service for installers will overlap that of the repair shop (and vice-versa), with light mechanical work also for routine vehicle maintenance. Increasingly at the centre of evolution, with its products and everything that may ensue, the wheel was certainly one of the most active players at the Italian fair dedicated to the automotive industry, and in which the public that once again flocked to Autopromotec demonstrated considerable interest.

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