In a surprising result, satisfaction among vehicle owners who use run-flat or low rolling resistant tires is declining, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 U.S. Original Equipment Tire Customer Satisfaction Study.

Both types of tires potentially improve fuel efficiency, but both are falling short of customer expectations in terms of satisfaction.

Brent Gruber, director, global automotive division at J.D. Power and Associates, told Loyalty 360 that the largest takeaway from the study for his company was consumer sentiment toward low rolling resistance tires and run-flat tires.

“Auto and tire manufacturers are taking steps to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles through tires, yet it seems to be having a negative impact on consumer sentiment,” Gruber said.

Run-flat tires are generally designed with an inner structure or sealant, which allow the driver of the vehicle to continue driving the vehicle in the event of tire deflation or puncture, Gruber said. A low-rolling resistant tire has improved rolling resistance, which decreases wasted energy while the tire makes contact with the road.

Overall satisfaction among owners of luxury vehicles with run-flat tires is 728 (based on a 1,000-point scale) compared with 739 among those who own luxury vehicles with standard tires. The gap is even more pronounced among owners of performance sports vehicles: 665 with run-flat tires compared to 732 with standard tires.

Nearly one-third (31%) of customers whose vehicles are equipped with run-flat tires have had to replace at least one tire, compared with just 19% of those whose vehicle is equipped with standard tires. Customers with vehicles equipped with standard tires replace their tires after an average of 22,559 miles, more than 6,000 miles beyond the average life of run-flat tires.

The 2013 U.S. Original Equipment Tire Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from more than 30,835 new-vehicle owners who purchased a 2011 or 2012 model-year vehicle. The study was conducted between October and December 2012.

Many consumers are concerned that equipping low rolling resistant tires on their vehicle means compromising traction and durability in exchange for better gas mileage based on research conducted by J.D. Power's Consumer Insights and Strategy Group.

The survey results notwithstanding, Gruber said that the role tires play in helping automakers meet fuel efficiency standards is critical.

“Due to the potential benefits, I believe that they will play an even more critical role as tire technology and consumer awareness progress, particularly with low-rolling resistant tires,” Gruber said.

The study measures tire owner satisfaction in four vehicle segments: luxury, passenger car, performance sport and truck/utility. Satisfaction is examined in four factors: tire wearability, tire appearance, tire traction/handling and tire ride. Rankings are based on owner experiences with their tires after two years of vehicle ownership.

Overall satisfaction with OE tires is 686, unchanged from 2012. Satisfaction increased in three of the factors, while tire ride satisfaction decreased by six index points year over year.

Overall satisfaction is highest in the luxury segment, with an average score of 738, followed by the performance sports segment at 728. The passenger car and truck/utility segments tied at 676.

For a fourth consecutive year, customers are experiencing fewer problems with their tires. On average, customers report 74 problems per 100 (PP100) vehicles, an improvement from 76 PP100 in 2012 and 84 PP100 in 2011. The most frequently reported problems are road hazard/punctures, slow leaks, excessive road noise, and fast tread wear.

Overall satisfaction is 135 points lower among customers who experience a specific tire problem than among those who do not experience any problems: 748 vs. 613, respectively.

Michelin ranks highest in customer satisfaction in three of the four segments: luxury (775), passenger car (729) and performance sport (751). Pirelli ranks highest in the truck/utility segment (737).

Future trends around tires will likely focus on the development of low-rolling resistant tires, Gruber said.

“Manufacturers will work to develop compounds that provide the right balance to meet consumer needs for tread life, traction, driving characteristics, and fuel efficiency,” Gruber said.

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