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Passenger/Light Truck

H/T Light Truck Market: Versatility is Key

With the increase of SUVs, CUVs and pickup trucks as daily drivers, the light truck (LT) tire segment has seen significant growth. However, due to large variations in how drivers use their LT vehicles, dealers need to be knowledgeable when recommending the best tire for a given application.

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Highway-terrain (H/T) LT tires make up one challenging segment, as drivers want long mileage and a smooth, quiet ride the majority of the time, while occasionally needing to tow a heavy load or even go off-road on the weekends.

While the highway-terrain LT segment itself has not grown much in recent years, it still makes up an important part of the LT category — one that dealers should be prepared to offer their customers, along with expertise for making the right recommendations.

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Market Segment Trends

Growth in the LT, SUV and CUV category in the North American market can be seen in the Class 2 and 3 vehicles that typically require light truck sizing, as well as sizing on Class 1 trucks changing from standard passenger to LT tires, according to Will Robbins, senior product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, U.S. and Canada. 

“With the growth in these categories and the rapid expansion of fleets and last-mile delivery vehicles serving customers today, it is crucial for dealers to take advantage of this growth opportunity,” he says, adding that the primary way this segment has evolved is by the increased number of size offerings. “Historically, the LT highway tire segment could be served by about 15 to 20 sizes, mostly 16- and 17-in. However, there has been an increase in size proliferation and expansion into higher rim diameters, with 18-, 20- and 22-in. tires becoming increasingly more common.”

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While the LT highway segment has been on a slight decline for a few years—due mostly to the market’s affinity for off-road tires on pickups—highway LT is still a significant chunk of business and 14 sizes cover close to 95% of the market, according to Bob Abram, Yokohama Tire senior manager of product planning.

“The explosion of Sprinters and like-vehicles used for delivery and small business have kept the segment from falling into rapid decline,” he says. “Of course, there will always be a sizable stable of no-nonsense ¾-ton and 1-ton pickups that will need long-wearing, durable highway tires.”

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Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of Kenda Tires’ automotive division, says the H/T segment in North America has generally increased the need for mileage for aftermarket replacement tires, with almost all high-quality tires offering mileage warranties.

“Another need emerging in the market is a growing trend for high-torque diesel (and soon electric) vehicles,” he says. “These vehicles affect aspects of performance and tread wear that must be addressed by tires anticipating the torque requirements, particularly if combined in a towing environment.”

There also is a growing trend for H/T tires to provide all-weather performance with a three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) capability, Stotsenburg adds, saying, “Most good H/T tires will perform as well as standard all-season, but the 3PMSF certification provides some additional confidence for the consumer.”

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Performance & Technical Aspects

As with any segment, fine-tuning H/T tire attributes is a give and take, balancing on-road wear life with off-road capabilities to meet drivers’ needs.

“Generally, drivers of LT highway tires prioritize durability and wear life,” says Robbins. “These drivers want to ensure that a tire will allow them to experience the full utility of their vehicle on- and off-highway while also delivering long-lasting performance. In fact, the industry has seen an increase in application wear warranties in recent years as wear performance is seen as an indicator of value in this segment compared to lower-priced, similarly-sized passenger tires.”

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He adds that LT tires often use higher levels of natural rubber for stronger resistance against chipping and tearing, compared to passenger tires that have largely adopted high levels of silica in tread compounds for improved wet and winter performance.

According to Andrea Berryman, director of product management for Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, drivers are using their pickups in more versatile ways than ever before—often as their everyday driver, as well as hauling things like their boat or camper. 

“With this in mind, it is the expectation that their tires offer them a smooth and quiet ride and a good treadwear warranty, while also providing rugged durability when driving through dirt or gravel for work or play,” Berryman says. “For a tire to perform for highway driving with occasional off-road time, you’ll need a tread that has a blended design and four-season capability. You want a tire that provides even wear across the width of the tire, which can help not only with obtaining the treadwear warranty, but also helps keep the tire quieter—many times you will see tires with closed shoulders to help with this.” 

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Berryman adds that tires with deep circumferential grooves will help channel water and keep a firm grip on the road in wet conditions, while tires with saw-tooth technology give more surface area to grip in snowy conditions.

Because the main priorities are tread wear and highway performance with heavy loads, consumer expectations for traction in off-road conditions are reduced and still reasonable, according to Dean Rogers, Nexen Tire section manager of tire technology.

“If there are struggles in soft terrain (mud or sand), consumers will understand,” he says. “Consumers also expect cut/chip resistance in their H/T LT tires, so this is also important to keep in mind.”

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Rogers explains that on-road treadwear and stability in all-weather conditions mean the tread design and compound demands are paramount for wet, dry and snow traction. The tread pattern, number of pitches, ratio of tread void-to-rubber volume, tie-bars in grooves, and kerfs all can help balance new tire tread stiffness. 

“That being said, this all needs to be balanced to an appropriate level with the stiffness and grip of the tread compound,” he adds. “A well-designed H/T tire will provide confidence and predictable highway stability in all weather conditions with both an empty truck and a fully loaded truck pulling a trailer.”  

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Todd Bergeson, senior product manager for light truck tires at Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., says the fact that H/T tires are engineered to be more comfortable and quieter when compared to off-road LT tires is particularly important for those who travel long distances on-road and will help with reducing driver fatigue. 

“The true road warrior, hauling or trailering long distances primarily on-road, should strongly consider an H/T tire,” he says, adding that Toyo designed its Open Country H/T II with a durable compound to provide a long treadwear life, resistance to tread-lug compression, and resistance to irregular wear. The tire’s expanding shoulder grooves and adaptive circumferential grooves are design elements of the tread that increase the void space between the tread blocks as the tire wears, for consistent traction throughout the tire’s wear life.

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Serving Customers

In a segment with such versatility, it’s important that dealers understand the usage of each customer’s vehicle when making a recommendation for replacement tires.

“You need to understand the commute, play and work ratio,” says Yokohama Tire’s Abram. “A truck that is a daily driver but needs to tow a camper three times per year, and a truck that is loaded up and goes to a job site every day might both need an LT265/70R17. However, they both might need a completely different tire to keep them satisfied with the performance.”

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He encourages dealers to ask qualifying questions in order to rank the importance of variables like tread wear, wet traction, snow traction, road noise, load-carrying capacity, and sidewall and tread durability, etc. 

“If the customer wants longer wear life, a comfortable ride and realistically may not see an unpaved road, then an H/T tire is likely the best option,” says Toyo Tires’ Bergeson. “If the customer has aspirations about off-roading and is willing sacrifice a bit of ride comfort and pattern noise, then moving up to (an all-terrain tire) may be a more suitable option.” 

Kenda Tires’ Stotsenburg advises dealers to offer tires in the growing size needs in both LT and P-metric designations for H/T tires, in order to offer a flexible solution for any customer.

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“Confirm the vehicle needs and driving habits,” he says. “Does the consumer have specific concerns about wear, wet performance, braking, noise and ride? Are there aesthetic concerns that they want to match to their ‘style?’ Finally, do they want a premium-branded product; a value product that provides similar performance at a lower price; or just a price-driven product?”

Stotsenburg adds that for commercial applications, such as delivery vans/trucks, or city driving, it is critical to have a product that addresses the above needs, as well as the size and load designations for the applications.

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Highway-Terrain LT Tire Options

The manufacturers that provided information for this article recommended the following tire options in this segment:

  • Bridgestone Dueler H/T 685
  • Firestone Transforce HT2
  • Cooper Discoverer HT3 and Discoverer SRX
  • Kenda Klever H/T2 KR600
  • Nexen Roadian HTX RH5
  • Toyo Open Country H/T II
  • Yokohama Geolandar H/T G056

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