As with many outdoor hobbies that increased in popularity during the pandemic, an uptick in off-road enthusiasts was the result of people shifting their leisure time to outdoor pursuits. A growing number of drivers needed mud-terrain (M/T) tires for traversing through mud, gripping rocks, digging into sand and exploring other treacherous terrains.
This, in turn, caused the mud-terrain tire market to experience steady growth, a proliferation of sizes, and even spin-off segments that feature the rugged appearance of mud-terrain tires but offer more road-friendly performance. These trends mean it’s more important than ever for tire dealers and their staffs to understand the nuances of this segment and help their customers select the right tire for the intended use.
Recent Market Trends
Also referred to as max-traction, mud-terrain tires have found their way to more OE fitments as automakers are expanding into “trail” trims.
“This is mainly concentrated in all-terrain (A/T), but we’ve seen M/T tires pop up on an increasing number of new fitments directly from the factory,” said Iris Ocasio, Bridgestone Sr. Product Planner, Consumer Product Strategy. “We anticipate further growth in the outdoor and off-road space, as automakers continue producing vehicles for consumers who like to explore off the beaten path.”
The proliferation of sizing skews much larger than standard tire fitments as overall diameters, much like rims, continue to grow.
“After the pandemic, many consumers have ventured outdoors and into niche spaces like overlanding,” Ocasio said. “The rise in popularity of utilizing vehicles to camp or explore more challenging terrains has propelled this segment forward. With that comes the need for bigger tires that can enhance ground clearance.”
According to Brandon Sturgis, BFGoodrich off-road product manager, new tire types in the mud-terrain space include traditional offerings for serious off-roaders, tires that focus on mud-terrain aesthetics but not true performance, and an all-new niche that the tiremaker calls HD-Terrain, created specifically for heavy-duty work trucks with the need to resist high torque and extreme chipping and tearing.
“BFGoodrich felt that there wasn’t an optimal tire in this space for commercial off-road use, so we took that opportunity for growth in that area in the future,” he said.
Kevin Nguyen, Yokohama Tire Manager of Product Planning, said the introduction of hybrid terrain tires has affected the mud-terrain segment.
“For enthusiasts who like the aggressive appearance but do not need the off-road performance of a mud-terrain tire, the hybrid terrain tire provides them with a slightly less aggressive tread design than a mud-terrain tire, while providing more on-road comfort and mileage warranty,” he said. “During the last couple of years, the mud-terrain segment grew substantially as enthusiasts were getting outdoors more. However, the segment has slowed some and is forecasted to remain relatively flat in the next few years.”
M/T Performance Aspects
When it comes to performance, a true mud-terrain tire focuses on the durability, dependability and traction that are required for off-road driving.
“The Firestone Destination M/T2, for example, is distinguished from other tire types in five key ways: three-ply sidewall construction; an aggressive upper sidewall design; stone and mud rejectors; 23-degree angles that give the tire strong pulling power; and a strong compound designed to protect against chips and tears,” Ocasio said.
Sturgis said that in addition to mud-traction, the most important performance aspects of the BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 are slow-speed rock crawling traction and sidewall toughness.
“For that true, dedicated M/T tire, those are the key areas to focus on,” he added. “That kind of tire is for people who go off-roading for fun, so they need these features for those activities.”
Nguyen said these enthusiasts are looking for a tire that can provide ultimate traction while in mud, dirt and rocks — all while tackling extreme off-road trails.
“They’re looking for their M/T tires to clean out mud and trail debris while off-roading,” he said. “The tire’s construction must be durable to prevent unwanted flats from rocks and tree roots while off the beaten path.”
Backed by Tire Technology
Behind these mud-terrain performance demands is the technology needed to deliver reliability and durability.
“A large block-to-void tread ratio, along with mud and stone ejectors, are important for off-road traction when driving through deep, muddy trails,” Nguyen said. “The tire’s aggressive, durable sidewall construction is engineered to withstand the punishment from the most brutal trails.”
Ocasio added that the need for traction, clearance and durability is what sets M/T tires apart from their A/T counterparts.
“Specific features that target durability, like 3-body ply and debris shield, contribute to the overall durability of the tire and add a literal layer of extra security,” she said. “On the traction front, tires with more void tend to evacuate debris you may encounter on the trail. Being able to clear your tires improves traction and minimizes the risk of wheel spin, especially in muddy conditions.”
While these attributes can contribute to a less comfortable on-road experience, the Destination M/T2 doesn’t compromise on off-road performance but still delivers an enjoyable ride on the way home from the trail, according to Ocasio.
“Balancing performance and livability makes this segment particularly unique,” she added.
Meeting Customer Needs
As with any niche tire segment, successful dealers will take the time to speak with customers about their intended use of mud-terrain tires.
“It’s important that dealers have conversations with their customers to understand their specific vehicle, typical usage, and performance expectations to ensure they get a product that meets their needs,” Ocasio said.
For example, if the customer is planning on some mild off-roading, a mud-terrain tire could over-deliver and compromise on ride comfort. However, if the customer is looking to tackle some serious terrain, Ocasio said to remember that not all M/Ts are equal.
“Understanding if the customer is venturing into sandy dunes or swampy forests will make a difference,” she said. “Once you understand what the customer is looking for, you can start narrowing down your recommendations.”
“Tire dealers should ask their customers how much off-road driving they actually will be doing and keep in mind that mud-terrain tires are not perfect for certain driving applications such as on-road performance, where noise and fuel economy are not as good as a traditional all-terrain or hybrid terrain tire,” Nguyen said. “There are products like the Yokohama Geolandar M/T G003 that provide excellent off-road traction and durability, while also providing long tread life and a quiet ride for a M/T tire.”