A new tire segment popped into the marketplace a few years back. It’s built for consumers I’d refer to as “mild adventurers” – those who sometimes want to take their CUV over the river and through the woods to get to Grandma’s weird forest house, but still need a quiet, comfortable ride with great fuel mileage to cart the kids through city streets to weekly gymnastics practice. It’s called the A/T Lite segment.
You haven’t heard of “A/T Lite”? Ah. Well, I suppose that makes sense. I just made it up.
I didn’t make up the segment, mind you. That’s real. But the segment name – that’s all me. But I have a good reason why!
Tire manufacturers all have their own naming conventions to exactly define these tires, but no matter the marketplace vocabulary, it all works.
- Falken Tires used “Trail” with its Wildpeak A/T Trail CUV all-terrain tire which debuted in 2019.
- BFGoodrich suggests calling the segment “On-Road All-Terrain” with its Trail-Terrain T/A tire.
- Nokian Tyres is using “APT” (all-purpose tire) with its recent launch of the Nokian Outpost APT.
Despite the lack of consensus in category nomenclature, the important thing to know is that manufacturers intentionally developed this segment for a very specific purpose.
“Versatility. That’s in my mind how you describe it,” says Steve Bourassa, Nokian Tyres director of products. “For the segment that we’re going after, CUVs, SUVs, small pickup trucks – a Subaru Crosstrek, for example – you can get a touring tire, you can get a UHP tire, maybe you could get an all-weather tire, but [the Outpost APT] brings in a new element that you can do a little bit more with. It has a little bit of flavor from all-weather to drive confidently in winter conditions. But it also brings in that light off-road capability, some gravel, that allows those consumers to do a little bit more with their vehicle because of their tire application.”
Application is King
Falken Tires’ Bakari Howard, supervisor, product training, also pointed to the Subaru Crosstrek as a great fit for Falken’s Wildpeak A/T Trail tire, calling it “the ideal application.”
“The [Wildpeak A/T Trail] really is a robust tire for a crossover, and you’re not in that 30- to 40-lb.-per-tire weight category, like some of the other competitors that are out there, that essentially is an LT tire being put on essentially a car platform, a unibody construction vehicle,” he says. “It’s truly meant for the crossover owner. You’re talking about your Highlanders, your RAV4s, your Foresters… all those types of vehicles, it fits well in that market. It doesn’t give you a lot of compromises – even in its on-road capabilities.
“When you start to get into some of these bigger SUVs, like Tahoes and Expeditions, that’s pretty much where you lose the A/T Trail.”
When BFGoodrich launched the Trail-Terrain T/A line in 2021, Brandon Sturgis, product manager of BFGoodrich CUV/SUV/LT/off-road tires, says the key was to ensure dealers understood how the company was positioning the Trail-Terrain T/A vs. the KO2, the company’s “Off-Road All-Terrain” tire.
“Simply differentiating these two offers as an on-road-focused all-terrain vs. an off-road-focused all-terrain really resonated well with our dealers,” Sturgis says. “If a consumer wants an all-terrain but is more concerned with noise, comfort and efficiency, then the Trail-Terrain T/A is the best tire for them. If a consumer wants an all-terrain and also wants higher levels of toughness, higher levels of soft soil traction and higher levels of gravel durability, then the All-Terrain T/A KO2 is the best offer for them.
“The all-terrain category has become very crowded with drastically different all-terrain performances that can make it very confusing for the consumer,” Sturgis continues. “Our goal is to have specific products for the specific consumer needs in order to make it easy for our dealers and consumers to find the right tire for their needs.”
From a manufacturer’s point of view, creating one of these tires is the equivalent of something like a tightrope walker nailing a backflip while keeping six different plates spinning on six different rods they’ve somehow managed to hold still. Consumers need these tires to be ready to perform nearly everywhere, without compromising durability or efficiency no matter the surface beneath them. Even being three-peak mountain snowflake certified for winter driving is a necessity here.
“I think about mountainous regions, Denver for example – it doesn’t get a ton of snow but there are lots of mountains around where people can drive to. So [the Nokian Outpost APT] gives that versatility to consumers,” Nokian’s Bourassa says. “For your city driving you have a good product that works well, and that one week in a month where you want to head up to the mountains, you have that peace of mind that it’ll survive and drive fine there as well.”
Like is often the case with A/T tires, Falken’s Howard says consumers often gravitate to the Wildpeak A/T Trail for the look.
“But the tire can’t just look cool, it’s got to perform,” he says.
As such, many of the cues the A/T Trail borrows from the Wildpeak A/T3W – a tire for drivers of pickup trucks, vans and full-sized SUVs – serve a dual purpose, like the step-downs in the blocks, which not only conveys a certain aesthetic, but also aid with squirm and also make the blocks stronger. Some of the blocks are sized differently, which also helps with noise. Even the sidewall treatment has a similar “aggressive” look, which also aids in durability and grip.
If there is one trade-off to be had in this category, one spinning plate that perhaps gets a tad bit wobbly, it’s road noise. It’s nothing like you might find in a typical A/T or M/T tire, mind you, but aggressive tread patterns tend to increase noise levels in the cabin a bit.
However, all things considered, Nokian’s Bourassa says, “if noise is that trade-off, relatively, it’s not that bad of a trade-off.”
“Fortunately, vehicles these days are made very, very well and are able to absorb some noise levels from your vehicle, from your tires, from entering the vehicle itself,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily trade-off your safety benefits in wet traction and winter traction. It’s able to withstand those gravel roads without chipping and chunking of the tread pattern.”
Not to mention, the warranties on tires of this segment aren’t bad either, coming in at 60,000 miles for the BFGoodrich Trail-Terrain T/A and 65,000 miles for Falken’s Wildpeak A/T Trail and the Nokian Outpost APT.
“On-road all-terrain tires like Trail-Terrain T/A are some of the most difficult tires to develop due to the significant number of opposing performances that need to be considered,” BFGoodrich’s Sturgis says. “Balancing noise, off-road traction, snow traction, off-road gravel durability, wet grip, and efficiency is very difficult, but we believe that we have a very good recipe with Trail-Terrain T/A.”
Are you looking for more on tires that take CUVs off the beaten path?