A Behind-The-Scenes Look At New Products
The company’s senior management team was more than happy to elaborate on the creation of its XLi air conditioners and heat pumps, plus its “new-and-improved” two-stage gas furnaces and air handlers, at a Media Day event here recently.
The day ended with Doug Hunsley, vice president of Plant Operations, providing a tour of the Tyler plant, which is currently gearing up for production of its XLi line.
MARKETING ANALYSESDale Green, vice president of Sales and Marketing, said that the company researched consumer and dealer dynamics, to better understand the dealer-consumer interaction in the decision-making process, develop an “asset profile” for the Trane brand, and create “the most distinctive positioning for Trane.”
There were no astonishing results in the dealer research findings. It confirmed the importance of dealers in the chain. It also noted that the more empowered the dealer, the more successful the dealer.
“Interestingly, however, the dealers emphasized that increased consumer knowledge is one of the biggest, most positive changes in the industry,” said Green. “Although a low-interest category — until time of need — the media and Internet have made consumers more educated regarding the different hvac options.”
From the perspective of consumers, the company’s research confirmed “what we have learned about the hvac category,” particularly that women need to be addressed in communication, and the biggest concern that remains among all consumers is buying a system that will last a long time.
At the top of the “real needs” list for dealers were reliability, installability, serviceability, and customer satisfaction. Customers ranked reliability, durability, efficiency, warranty, and comfort as their top five real needs.
“This underscores the value of a compelling ‘reliability-durability’ positioning for Trane,” said Green. He said that the Trane brand’s key assets are its reliability-quality reputation, highly trained distribution network, strong technical and field service support, and an effective tag line. (“It’s hard to stop a Trane.”)
From the same research, Truman Draper, manager of Marketing, noted that consumers generally fall into two categories:
1. Maximizers (“Consumers who have done some research and who want to be better educated about the product”); and
2. Minimizers (“Consumers who are reacting to system failure, and do not have the luxury of time to do any research”).
“This confirms what we have learned about the consumer relationship with the brand and dealer,” said Draper. “The dealer is highly influential in driving brand choice; consumers tend to care more about the dealer they choose rather than the brand of equipment they purchase, although this is more true with minimizers than maximizers.”
OUTDOOR PRODUCTArmed with this research, a Trane team (with members from sales, marketing, design, and manufacturing) went to a Colorado mountain resort to concentrate on what this new outdoor unit should feature. An industrial designer was brought to help push the “appearance envelope.” Consumer focus groups were used to determine its color.
According to Greg Walters, Outdoor Product leader, nailing down the color may have been the most strenuous part; 693 consumers and dealers were figured into the equation, 41 colors were tested, and six locations were used in the testing process. The color took an entire year to determine.
The new XLi line was introduced in September of last year, but full production will begin September of this year. The line will have 310 models.
Walters provided a hands-on demonstration of one of the units, pointing out the various new and improved features. Top of the list was its WeatherGuard™ II top, which he said provides better airflow. It is designed to enhance performance and efficiency while allowing for quieter operation. He said this armor-like protective covering keeps leaves, hail, and debris out of the unit, and it can withstand damage from a 90-mph fastball.
Technicians should approve of its Quick-Sess™ design. Only two screws need to be removed to take off the service panel. The same applies to removal of the control box cover. And, access panels swing open. Walters said with 70% fewer fasteners, technicians can provide faster service.
Other features include the Spine Fin™ coil, full protective cabinet, DuraTuff™ basepan (designed to withstand more than 800 lb of load), Climatuff® compressors (which were “torture-tested” in the company’s SEET facility), and plenty of warranty (10 years on compressor, outdoor coil, and on all internal functional parts).
INDOOR PRODUCTSTim Storch, Furnace Product leader, discussed the evolution of Trane’s two-stage gas furnaces. He noted that for more than 50 years, the furnace industry had remained virtually unchanged. However, the move to 100% high-efficiency furnaces was “the start of a whole new era for the gas furnace industry.”
In the company’s furnace research of 1988, key discoveries included the fact that dealers wanted a design that was more reliable and easier to install. Meanwhile, consumers were not happy with the level of comfort furnaces provided. This resulted in Trane’s initial 80%-efficient, two-stage furnace two years later.
Storm said that contractors approved of the 40-in.-tall furnace design, making it 8- to 13-in. shorter than the previous design — and making it easier to install. Plus, it had multi-position designs, from upflow/horizontal to downflow/horizontal.
In 1995, adaptive features were added to prevent overheating, which Storm said reduced the first-year failure rate more than 50%. In 1997, a silicon nitride igniter was introduced, “virtually eliminating broken igniters,” he said. That same year, the variable-speed draft inducer motor came to the forefront, which Storm said provided quiet operation and prevented short cycling.
“We knew all of our efforts to improve reliability and durability were paying off when customer calls switched from operational issues to, ‘How do you change the filter?’” said Storm.
So, in 1998, the company did its furnace filter/door research. It concluded that homeowners wanted a single-door filter access — and doors that opened and closed easily but stayed attached to the product. Dealers also preferred a door that was hinged, but also could be removed for service.
Storm said these wishes are reality on the new XR80, XL80, and XV80 furnaces, which began production in May of last year. These furnaces even have adjustable filter racks; the XR90, XL90, and XV90 versions have side returns.
Storm also touched upon improvements in the company’s air handlers. In 1998, the company introduced its Comfort™ coils, which Storm said helps meet ASHRAE Standard 62 equipment design guidelines for acceptable indoor air quality. The company recently introduced shorter coils, which will replace all 3- and 4-ton 30-in.-tall coils. Also, variable-speed technology has allowed air handlers to be much quieter and more efficient, he said.
Publication date: 04/22/2002