Of the roughly 500 million tires sold annually in the U.S., Canadian and European replacement markets, approximately 81 million are winter tires, according to Andreas Gerstenberger, vice president of sales and marketing at Continental Tire North America (CTNA).
Winter tires comprise about 30% of the replacement tire markets in both Europe and Canada; however, the U.S. is lagging, with winter tires responsible for only about 2% of the national tire market.
Gerstenberger shared those statistics with select journalists invited to a ride-and-drive event held Feb. 6-7 high in the snow-covered hills of Mont Tremblant, Que. CTNA created the “Arctic Blast” event to showcase the winter tire lineup it plans to use aggressively to gain marketshare in the U.S. and Canadian winter tire markets.
Journalists had the chance to drive sports cars and SUVs, each fitted with CTNA’s winter tires, through an ice and snow testing course. Hard braking and accident-avoidance maneuvers helped to promote the abilities of winter tires over their all-season counterparts.
Driving the Winter Blast
“The growth in the U.S. and Canadian winter tire markets is quite amazing,” said Gerstenberger. “Last year, the Canadian winter tire market grew by 27%,” he explained. “The U.S. winter tire market grew by 8%. Continental is well positioned, with its background, to attack that market and to play a major role in this segment.”
According to CTNA executives, OE is driving a large part of winter tire demand in the U.S. and Canada. Along with booming light truck and SUV sales, the OE push toward high performance also is increasing the need for winter tires, according to CTNA officials.
“Many cars are coming with performance tires as OE, and these tires lean toward summer performance, even though they are ‘all-season,’” says Joe Maher, CTNA’s product planning and brand development manager. “That lean toward performance means it is necessary to go to a winter tire for that vehicle to be functional in winter time.
“We see the [winter tire replacement] market continuing to grow as the OE market changes to high performance tires,” he said.
There’s evidence to back up Maher’s projection. In 2005, the H-rated studless passenger segment grew 19%, while the V-rated-and-above segment grew more than 30% according to CTNA. “The market showed substantial improvement in 2005 in the H-rated-and-above studless light truck segment, as well, with growth over 83%,” officials said.
CTNA’s winter tire lineup is well positioned to take advantage of these growing market demands, said CTNA executives, and that’s why they feel the company is in a strong position to grow its winter tire business in North America.
“We will utilize our brand strength, winter tire technology and OE presence to gain marketshare in the U.S. and Canadian winter tire markets,” Gerstenberger said.
CTNA’s plan of attack hinges on a lineup consisting of three tires: its recently launched ContiCrossContact Winter tire, the ContiWinterContact TS790 and the ContiWinterContact TS810.
Officially launched this past December, CTNA’s ContiCrossContact Winter tire is designed specifically for light trucks, SUVs and crossover vehicles.
“To compete, especially in the Canadian and U.S. winter tire markets, we had to offer winter tires for light truck and SUV applications,” Gerstenberger said.
The ContiCrossContact Winter tire is available in 16 sizes, to fit 16-inch to 21-inch wheel diameters, and in H-speed ratings and higher. The tire features the “latest generation” silica compound and siping technology to deliver traction and performance on wintry roads, CTNA officials said.
Key features of the new tire include an advanced silica compound and a “strongly siped” tread design for flexibility at low temperatures, an “optimized sipe concept” that promotes a direct transmission of forces to the road, and wide circumferential and optimized shoulder groove geometry that provides increased water dispersion and evacuation routes.
The ContiWinterContact TS790 comes in 50 sizes, to fit 15-inch to 21-inch wheel diameters, and offers H-speed ratings and higher. This tire offers shorter braking distances and increased traction due to its asymmetric tread and wide sipes on the inner shoulder, according to CTNA. Its silica tread compound uses “Cross Link Sipe” technology to enhance grip on snow and ice, according to the tiremaker.
The ContiWinterContact TS810 comes in 24 sizes, H-speed rated and above, and features “Innovative Component Technology,” which allows for handling in the wet without compromising snow performance, CTNA said. The tire’s sipe spacers reportedly prevent sipes from closing during surface contact.
The ContiWinterContact TS790 and TS810 tires are already on the market; the ContiCrossContact Winter tire is now available for the 2006 winter season.