Twelve months ago a handful of car manufacturers, their tyre supply partners and franchised dealers dipped a toe in the icy waters of winter tyre retail.
This year, after early predictions of heavy snow and near-universal consumer advice from motoring organisations, almost every brand has launched a cold-weather swap programme, or is planning one.
BMW was one of the first out of the blocks in 2010 and by spring dealers had sold 4,663 wheel/tyre sets.
With retail prices ranging from £600 to £2,400, it represented an attractive and potentially lucrative new revenue stream.
Not surprisingly, it’s back for 2011 with an added optional £30 ‘store and insure’ service so the customer doesn’t have to take the unused wheels away.
Carl Sanderson, general manager of aftersales development, said: “The first year was a resounding success. As well as offering customers safety benefits, it gives dealers another point of contact with customers outside of the normal service schedule.”
New this year is a scheme from Seat, in conjunction with wholesale supplier Viking, and includes tyre and wheel/tyre sets from a variety of popular brands to cater for preferences and budgets.
Work is mostly being done in-house.
Seat UK’s head of aftersales Nigel Griggs said after a run of harsh winters it was inevitable winter tyres would cross the Channel.
“The dealers have no specific targets, but we are encouraging them to market the scheme and have given them point-of-sale material to promote that.
"We have suggested a minimum stocking for the most popular sizes, and most of these are bought outright by the dealer.”
Griggs said the key was to look at it from the benefit winter tyres can bring to the customer. “This is an incremental sales opportunity, so obviously it’s about dealer profitability and a chance to engage with the customer outside regular maintenance intervals.”
Staff have gone through an e-learning programme so they understand the product and can handle customer questions.
“This is the year we’re going to see significant level of promotion and take-up of winter tyres.” he said.
After low-key promotion last year, Suzuki launched a full winter tyres initiative in early October through every dealer.
Lee Morton is group aftersales manager for Colin Appleyard Suzuki, with outlets in Huddersfield, Keighley, Shipley and Ashton-under-Lyne.
All are urban sites, but with rural communities and upland areas close by. “We are getting people asking about them and we’ve sold a few sets already, but we’re marketing much harder than we did last year.
"It’s about educating the customer to the benefits, making them aware that it’s not just a sales pitch.”
Not every Suzuki dealer is happy, though. One who wanted to remain anonymous said he didn’t want to take the scheme on.
“Even though we’re in a semi-rural area I can’t see the benefit for us. They came in telling us about it and how we have to buy so many sets of tyres for each model.
"They’re not on sale or return so if we can’t sell them we’re stuck with them. If I wanted to do this I’d source some winter tyres locally.”
It’s not just rural dealers who are getting involved. Mercedes-Benz Retail Group has 16 London sites, with marketing activity focused on email and direct mail to existing customers.
Simon Ackers, market area director for north London, said there hadn’t been demand until the last two winters.
“This gives us a new customer touch-point and the opportunity to present enhanced value by offering services such as the winter healthcheck at the same time.
"Aside from increasing aftersales opportunities in these challenging economic times, it’s also a chance for us to boost customer retention and satisfaction.”
Getting a grip this winter are:
- Audi: Tyres from £550, wheel/tyres sets start at £792.
- BMW: Prices from £700 for wheel/tyre sets. Fitting charges may apply.
- Citroën: Four winter tyres, storage of summers, healthcheck, from £56 a tyre.
- Honda: Prices range from £605 to £825 + VAT and fitting. Storage costs from £30.
- Mercedes-Benz: Wheel/tyre sets for cars from £999 + fitting for cars, £700 for vans.
- Peugeot: Tyres and alloys, tyres and steels, tyres only and storage from £40 plus fitting per tyre.
- Porsche: Wheel/tyre sets from £1,500.
- Saab: Wheels/tyre sets from £559. Fitting charges and tyre storage options vary.
- Suzuki: Wheel/tyre sets cost from £424 for an Alto to £900 for a Grand Vitara.
- Toyota/Lexus: Tyres to fit most current and many past models available through dealers. Prices from £220.20 plus fitting.
- Volkswagen: Fitted winter tyres for any current VW from £250 a set. Wheel/tyre sets also available from £725.
- Volvo: Four tyres available from £495; wheel/tyre sets £1,000. Fitting is £85.