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Executive Interview

Executive Interview: Tenneco’s Jeff Koviak Talks Ride Control, Brakes And Emissions

Jeff Koviak is vice president and general manager of Tenneco’s North American Aftermarket business, which manufactures and markets Monroe ride control and Walker emissions control components, Rancho suspension and DynoMax and Thrush performance exhaust products. Koviak recently shared Tenneco’s plans for growth in the ride control, brakes and emissions control categories.

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Jeff Koviak is vice president and general manager of Tenneco’s North American Aftermarket business, which manufactures and markets Monroe ride control and Walker emissions control components, Rancho suspension and DynoMax and Thrush performance exhaust products. Tenneco also markets the Monroe Brakes product line, which includes Monroe ProSolution, Total Solution and Severe Solution brake pads. Monroe and Walker have long been among the most trusted brands in their respective categories and Tenneco continues to invest in innovative products and programs designed to strengthen the connection between its brands and the professionals and consumers who rely on them each day. Koviak recently shared Tenneco’s plans for growth in the ride control, brakes and emissions control categories.

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Tenneco recently introduced a risk-free trial offer covering Monroe premium ride control products. The Monroe “Feel the Difference” guarantee allows the customer to receive their money back during a 90-day or 1,000-mile trial period if they are not satisfied. That seems like a bold promise; what is the strategy behind it?

The key benefit of this new offer is that it allows the service provider to promise their customer that they will feel a positive difference in ride and handling performance following the replacement. This, after all, is what every consumer hopes for following an investment in their vehicle – they want to experience the benefits and feel that they have made a smart decision. When they have this level of confidence and satisfaction, you can bet they will be more likely to choose the same repair provider for additional work down the road. This is a huge benefit not only to the consumer but also to the service provider.

Do you expect it to lead to stronger ride control sales?

No question about it, but the ‘Feel the Difference’ guarantee is part of a much broader program to help shops accelerate growth and strengthen customer relationships by selling and installing premium-quality products from the No. 1 brand in the category. To earn more ride control business, you need to establish and follow a formal inspection process – including a test drive, whenever possible – for every vehicle that comes to the shop for brakes, tires, alignment or other undercar service. Next, if you’ve identified the need for new ride control, you need to make sure the customer understands how these components can affect stopping distance, vehicle stability and overall handling performance. Worn units can also cause tires to show signs of wear prematurely. And finally, the shop needs to ask for the opportunity – “Can we perform this work for you today?”  You’d be surprised how many times this crucial step gets skipped. The Feel the Difference Guarantee is a powerful new incentive for the shop and the consumer – the shop can now promise their customer that they will feel the renewed ride performance delivered by Monroe products or get their money back, plus labor and alignment, if applicable. Just another powerful reason to recommend Monroe for every ride control opportunity.

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Monroe was a pioneer in the strut assembly category more than a decade ago. What kinds of challenges are you facing in this competitive category today?

Any time offshore suppliers see a fast-growing service category, they’re going to want to tap into the opportunity. However, the strut assembly category is very complex, and choosing a white box type of product comes with no small amount of risk. Every Monroe Quick-Strut assembly is engineered, assembled, fit checked and tested for its specific application. We only use premium, OE-style upper strut mounts and bearing plates and upper spring seats. Our coil springs are application-engineered and manufactured from U.S. grade steel. The strut itself is engineered, built and tuned specifically for the vehicle that is being repaired. And, of course, it comes with a limited lifetime warranty and our new Feel the Difference risk-free guarantee. Tenneco is now building on this quality and performance advantage with an aggressive new expansion of coverage.

You’ll be seeing an impressive number of new Monroe Quick-Strut part numbers being rolled out every month. Given this expanded availability, there’s simply no reason to take the risk on a lesser product.

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The exhaust category has shown surprising strength in the past few years. Do you feel this growth will continue, and how are Tenneco and its customers benefitting from it?

Exhaust, or emissions control, is central to what we do at Tenneco and played a major role in my own career – I owned a chain of exhaust shops prior to rejoining Tenneco in the 1990s.

As the category changed over the years, some suppliers either reduced their investment or exited the category altogether. Tenneco and the Walker brand have continued to invest – both in new technologies and increased coverage – to position our customers for growth. One of our most significant successes has been the introduction of stainless steel replacement mufflers and assemblies as premium product.

Consumers “get” the value of stainless steel, and they’re willing to spend a little more on a premium exhaust component when it carries that additional value. The fastest-growing area of emissions control, however, is catalytic converters. Because Tenneco is one of the world’s largest suppliers of converters and other Clean Air technologies to global OE automotive manufacturers, we have a distinct advantage in developing and delivering superior replacement solutions for the aftermarket. We are confident this advantage will continue to increase the preference for Walker emissions control products among repair providers across the U.S. and Canada.

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Are there any trends in exhaust technology that are driving this demand?

There’s a combination of factors, one of which is the continued aging of the North American car parc. The average passenger vehicle is nearing 12 years of age, yet most still have years of additional service life left in them thanks to continued quality improvements by many vehicle manufacturers. Because the incidence of exhaust and emissions control repairs increases with vehicle age, we are confident this category will remain strong.

In addition, Tenneco and the Walker brand have invested in the category over the long term to help accelerate this growth. Ask most technicians why they choose Walker and they’ll likely tell you that our parts fit like the OE units – and in many cases that’s because we are the OE supplier. One of our key strategies over the past several years has been to accentuate this advantage by expanding our offering of direct-fit exhaust assemblies, mufflers, converters and pipe. Now the shop doesn’t have to worry about bending or welding pipe or specialized connections to make the part fit. As a result, we’re seeing more shops either returning to the emissions control category or entering the category for the first time because the demand is there and our parts eliminate the need for specialized skills and equipment.

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