While car companies are always releasing new models with innovative features like Tesla’s self-driving mode or BMW’s laser headlights, much of the way our vehicles get serviced has remained mired in the 20th century. But over the past year, Bridgestone Americas, a US subsidiary of the Japanese company the Bridgestone Corporation known for its Firestone tires, worked on a number of high-potential projects to modernize car maintenance.
As an essential business, the Nashville-based company never shut down during the pandemic. While there were kinks to hammer out initially, the company’s background in emergency response (they launched an emergency response team in 2008 to help with large-scale disasters, inspired by Hurricane Katrina) meant that there were already some digital processes in place to help in uncertain situations.
“We were very fortunate in having a pretty strong backbone of information technology … particularly in areas like customer service, because of our emergency response background,” says TJ Higgins. “We had practiced remote working previously — not on a scale that was sustained like it is [now] — but we practiced it. So, we were ready.”
Higgins is the Global Chief Sustainability Officer, Global Chief Business Strategic Officer, and Global Chief Digital Strategic Officer at Bridgestone Americas. In a recent interview with InnoLead, Higgins shared insights on some of the initiatives that he oversaw in 2020.
RESOLV: A Subscription Service for Car Maintenance
One of a few initiatives that are in what Higgins calls the prototype phase would give car maintenance the subscription treatment. The service, called RESOLV, would turn one-time payments for purchases like tires or car maintenance into a subscription, allowing consumers to pay in installments over time. Users would download an app, plug in information about their vehicle, and then receive alerts when it’s time to take their car in to get serviced. This is meant to build an ongoing relationship with consumers.
“It really shifts the trend from being a transaction, where we sell them a tire, and they then go on and use that tire,” Higgins says. “It creates a relationship between us and the customer, where we work together and make sure that that the tire is properly inflated, being rotated, alignments are right. We take collective responsibility with the customer to make sure that they’re feeling comfort and peace of mind that … their vehicle is being maintained by an expert.”
Currently, there are a number of plans customers can choose from, ranging in price from $20 to $84 per month, with a few hundred participating locations across the country.
During RESOLV’s pilot testing phase, users are only able to initiate a subscription at a Firestone retail location. However, if the test works well, then a broader rollout would include partnerships with other shops across the country in 2021, Higgins says.
Firestone Direct: Car Maintenance That Comes to Consumers
Also in the pilot phase is Firestone Direct, a mobile car maintenance service that meets consumers at their location to provide a number of basic services. For example, if a customer’s vehicle is due for a regular service such as tire rotation, they can use Firestone Direct to get their car serviced at the parking lot of their office, or right in the driveway of their home.
Unlike similar services, like AAA, Firestone Direct is not an emergency service that one calls on when their car breaks down, or a tire blows out. Instead, it’s meant to be the user’s go-to service for regular services like oil changes, vehicle inspections, windshield wiper or lightbulb replacement, and more.
Currently, it is only available in the Nashville area — but a broader rollout can be expected in the next few years if pilot testing is successful. Higgins anticipates that as people continue to remain distant from one another for safety reasons, this contactless type of car service will be necessary.
“In this current environment, where safety and social distance remains important, it gives us the opportunity to service somebody’s vehicle and not have that physical interaction that you’d have at a store,” he says.
REACH: Emergency Response for Truck Fleets
A 2020 win for Bridgestone came in the form of a partnership with REACH — a startup Bridgestone partnered with that is dedicated to improving emergency response for trucks. From a consumer standpoint, the company isn’t very visible; the only people that would interact with the platform are a fleet management company, a servicing dealer, and a truck driver, Higgins says.
Truck drivers download the app, and use their phones to see the status of preventative maintenance checks, various work orders, and emergency repairs. And if an 18-wheeler is broken down on the side of the road, the driver can use the app to communicate with a service provider who can arrive on-site to repair the vehicle, without having to go through a third-party mechanic.
By keeping the driver, their management, and their service provider up-to-date on the vehicle’s status, the app simplifies communication — and its website boasts that this streamlined process saves drivers an average of 23 minutes per repair. Keeping trucks on the road is necessary to getting items delivered on time, Higgins says, especially during a period where so many people are staying home and supply chains are strained.
“In the trucking industry, timing is very important,” he says. “There are dock dates, [when people expect to receive packages,] and appointment times. And those are back to back — especially in an environment like we’ve been in, where the trucking industry has been a lifeline to keep our economy going. So, instead of developing it ourselves, we partnered with this external company, and have really been able to start to integrate the REACH platform into our service providers.”