DETROIT – Matthias Schoenberg’s blood runs cold when he hears the term “snow tires.”

The CEO of Continental Tire North America Inc. says the proper term is “winter tires,” and they could heat up business for new-vehicle dealers suffering from the current market decline.

If dealers provided services such as winter-tire storage and wheel/tire changes, it would create more opportunities for customer interaction, Schoenberg tells Ward’s here during the North American International Auto Show. And increased customer interaction portends higher revenues.

But first, North American consumers must be reminded about the safety benefits of winter tires, he says.

Continental took a step in this direction two years ago by launching its “45-Degrees Campaign.”

The message: Snow cover isn’t the only winter road condition that mars tire performance.

“Rubber compounds in summer tires and all-season tire compounds get much stiffer once the temperature is below 45F,” Schoenberg says. “Winter tires stay flexible.”

This translates into safety benefits such as shortened stopping distances. In some conditions, winter tires can reduce stopping distances by 91%, to 120 ft. (37 m) from 1,300 ft. (96 m).

As a bonus, winter-tire use makes all-season and summer tires last longer, he adds.

Meanwhile, Continental is aiming to increase its annual North American-market winter-tire volume to as much as 20% of overall sales, from 10%.

“We want to grow all-season tire sales as well as winter sales,” Schoenberg says. “But we think 15% to 20% is a reasonable goal (for winter-tire volume).”

Winter-tire use is mandated in parts of Europe, as well as the Canadian province of Quebec.

Previous safety-related campaigns involving Continental, such as its active endorsement of electronic stability control, have influenced legislation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. has ordered all passenger cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. must be equipped with ESC by the ’12 model year.

emayne@wardsauto.com