Last year the tracks were hot with new ultra-high performance tires, and the outlook for UHP tire sales in 2017 looks like it will be a positive one. As technology improves and UHP-fitted vehicles change, your tire dealership should be finding more UHP tires in your bays and on the road well beyond summertime.
More Cars, More Tires
According to industry experts, more cars on the road are being fitted with UHP tires, especially as more vehicles outside the typical prestige and sports car realm (i.e., CUVs) use UHP tires. Plus, the market is continuing to see an uptick in prestige vehicles. All this comes down to the vehicle manufacturers.
“The vehicle manufacturer has the biggest impact on the UHP tire market,” says Bob Liu, Continental Tire the Americas product manager for performance tires. “We continue to see more and more OE vehicles with UHP tires from the factory, which in turn drives more demand in the replacement market.”
Backing up this rise in UHP-fitted vehicles, there is a growing rate of registrations for prestige and premium vehicles, which are typically fitted with UHP tires. This growth is expected to continue, according to Enrico Ongis, director of product and planning for Pirelli Tire North America.
“By 2020, for example, it is predicted that the sales of prestige vehicles will be five times higher than it was in 2000, while the sales for standard vehicles are expected to rise by only 30%, in comparison. Based on these projections for prestige and premium vehicle sales, it follows that the UHP tire market segment will follow the trend,” Ongis adds.
Continental’s Liu adds that the aftermarket upsizing market will also affect UHP tires’ popularity.
“The tuning market also has an impact, as many will remember the mid-2000s when upsizing was very popular. Although the aftermarket upsizing market is much smaller today, the vehicle manufacturers offer many large rim diameter sizes straight from the factory,” Liu says.
From Summertime to All the Time
Another large factor in the increasing popularity of UHP tires, is the advancement in UHP tire technology that allows the tires to offer better handling performance for the enthusiast driver and all-season performance to the average driver.
Known for fitting high-performance vehicles such as luxury vehicles and sports cars, the UHP tires of today are set apart from high-performance (HP) tires by speed ratings (UHP tires are normally W-rated or higher), technology and driving capability.
“Tread pattern/profile, land/sea ratio as well as compound and reinforcement are significantly different, allowing them to be more closely tailored to the specific applications,” says Stefania Masciullo, R&D director for Pirelli Tire North America. “Engineers take the variance in engines, chassis and aerodynamics into consideration along with the intended performance targets when designing each product, so this also creates a differentiation.”
With the track often acting as a laboratory, tiremakers have diligently been testing the performance applications of UHP tires for qualities such as noise, fuel efficiency and wet/dry handling. Pirelli’s Masciullo adds that manufacturer and legal requirements on fuel consumption, safety and comfort also drive improvements in UHP tires.
Over the years, the tire industry has seen many technological advances in UHP tire’s overall performance, creating a new UHP product that can handle the track and all four seasons.
Tread design and compound are at the top of the list of technological advancements for improved performance.
“Tread design, generally speaking, the more widely accepted performance oriented design is an asymmetric tread design and that’s because you can tune a tire, if you will, for increased performance with a different design characteristic on the inside of the tire versus the outside of the tire, so that’s where we would start,” says Jedd Emans, vice president of marketing for Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.
“[3-D siping] helps not only in better water evacuation, but also helps in winter or cold weather performance, too, and can continue on with advancements in compounding,” he adds.
Wet handling performance is a huge area of improvement for UHP tires, and has enabled tiremakers to create more all-season and M+S rated UHP tires that are capable of taking on a mild winter.
“It’s imperative for our dealers to stay up to date on all the rapid advancements in technology in UHP products because there are many consumers out there that just don’t realize that these tires are actually four-season products now,” Hercules’ Emans says.
With the advancements in all-season performance, tiremakers are finding more opportunity beyond the Sunbelt region (where the typical summer UHP tire consumer would reside) and into the Midwest and Great Lakes area. This four-season technology, along with the additional UHP-fitted vehicles, has created new types of UHP consumers.
Selling to the UHP Spectrum
UHP tire consumers are on a spectrum from the intense enthusiast driver in a sports car to the mom driving her kids around in a high performance SUV.
“From CUVs to family sedans, today’s cars are increasingly more high-performance in nature. And, with automakers building more sporty cars, there is an increased need for UHP tires at the OE and aftermarket levels,” says Steve Bourassa, director of products and pricing at Nokian Tyres.
With that, you may be seeing more non-enthusiast customers coming through your door that expect great traction all year round from a UHP tire and don’t plan on switching out a summer UHP tire for a winter tire; or the consumer might not realize they can have a four-season UHP product.
All UHP tire consumers, however, will want the performance of their tires to match their vehicle’s capabilities.
“Our UHP customers today can demand more and more from a single product simply because the tire is performing not only very well in those areas of traction, but also performing well in colder areas, in colder months and wearing for longer periods of time,” Hercules’ Emans says.
Continental further breaks down its UHP customers into the summer and all-season customer.
“The summer UHP customer typically has more focus on dry performance and is willing to give up some tread life. Also, this customer either lives in a moderate climate or has alternative options during the winter, for example, a set of winter tires or a secondary vehicle,” Continental’s Liu says.
“The all-season UHP customer typically needs a tire that does it all and is looking for better tread life, but is willing to give up some dry performance compared to summer UHP,” he adds.
The summer UHP tire consumer most closely aligns with the standard idea of the UHP tire consumer: the enthusiast driver.
“An ideal UHP tire consumer will be someone who loves to drive, has a passion for their vehicle(s) and an appreciation for getting the best performance out of that vehicle. They often live in southern climates, or are using dedicated winter tires if they live in the north,” shares Nokian’s Bourassa.
According to Hercules’ Emans, these enthusiasts will be tapped into recent trends, meaning tire dealers should have the proper education and understanding of a UHP tire.
“Dealers need to have skilled staff and the proper equipment to service UHP tires, as well as the expensive wheels that often accompany them,” Nokian’s Bourassa adds. “Quite often, the UHP consumer is passionate and knowledgeable about their vehicle, which means they pay attention to each and every little detail. So, any damage made to the wheels, even the smallest scratch, can result in a dealer losing the customer for life.”
To handle all of these different consumers, getting a lay of the land will help immensely when it comes to stocking the right UHP tires.
“Dealers also need to know about the car parc of the area in order to be properly stocked in terms of the constantly growing range of sizes and quantities needed for supply. This helps to maximize sales and optimize customer satisfaction,” notes Pirelli’s Ongis.