Everything seems like it is getting bigger nowadays, right? Our phones barely fit in our pockets, our laptops are becoming desktops again and pizza can’t get large enough. Things are getting bigger in the auto industry, too. Take, for example, the trend of increasing rim diameters- namely in the 18- to 22-in. rim-diameter range in recent years, which has seen double-digit growth since 2015.
According to tire manufacturers, larger rim diameter popularity is due to the push toward SUVs and CUVs and the driving benefits that go along with them, such as stability, a shorter braking distance and size proliferation in the tire market. But, the prominent reason is how the larger rim looks on a vehicle.
“The growth in demand for larger vehicles along with the increased focus on vehicle design has ultimately led to the sharp increase in larger rim diameters over the past decade, “ says Sonny McDonald, national training manager for Toyo Tires.
Aesthetics and Performance
With SUV and CUV sales in North America increasing over the last decade, customer needs for these vehicles will be specific. In order to complement the modern SUV or CUV, tires require higher levels of grip, improved comfort and driving sophistication—more so than the performance of smaller to mid-sized vehicles. On top of that, vehicle manufacturers say they are building bigger cars with bigger wheels to support greater vehicle weight but also to accommodate the larger look of the tire.
Bryce Jones, Pirelli North America technical project manager, says some of the recent size proliferation with tires is due to the popularity of the SUV/CUV market. New tire sizes are needed for new vehicle makes and models. The same goes for wheel rim-diameter size proliferation, which also updates with the trends.
“As the OE manufacturer is dialing in performance specific to individual vehicles, they have chosen to use increased wheel diameters that serve multiple purposes,” says Jones. “One example, a larger wheel and tire package will provide more responsive handling compared to the same tire diameter with a smaller wheel. That is why oftentimes a larger wheel diameter package goes with an upgraded performance option for the vehicle.”
However, at the heart, Jones says there is one thing consumers prefer.
“Another example is that a larger wheel package is more aesthetically pleasing,” Jones says. “The consumer tends to prefer the low-profile tire look.”
JJ Park, vice president of marketing at Hankook Tire concurs, saying “[Increasing rim diameters] enhance the tire’s overall profile and performance such as driving stability while offering great satisfaction in terms of aesthetics.”
Hank Feldman, the owner of Performance Plus Tire, an automotive superstore located in Southern California, says he sees the same trends, and dealers must get used to them, especially now that OEs are trending toward larger sizes.
“Clearly, the SUV segment has gravitated to the 20-in. range. Nationally, we see [more customers] going with these wide and higher diameter wheels with the larger diameter tires,” he says. “Some of these vehicles come with 20-in. [rims] already, where maybe five years ago, they didn’t. So it’s not as [different] now because so many of the original equipment sizes have increased in diameter from the factory.”
Keeping Up with Increasing Tire Sizes
According to Park, Hankook Tire and other manufacturers will continue following consumer demand and look to what they need in terms of performance of the vehicle and tire, in which he says rim diameter plays a big part.
“The trend has been driven by an increase in consumer demand for vehicles that require this specific rim, tread width, and profile,” says Park.
Tire dealers and shop owners have to keep up with these trends as well. Feldman explains that while his employees at Performance Plus are skilled technicians, there was a learning curve to maintaining and servicing vehicles with larger rims. Due to the high influx of service he began doing on larger rim diameter tires, he realized around five years ago that he not only had to purchase new equipment to service those tires, but he also had to re-train his technicians in the process.
“I’ve had this equipment for about three or four years. Initially, getting my guys to use it was a problem because they’re used to doing it their way, but we’re demanding they use it,” he joked. “Seriously though, you have to have the right equipment. We have a machine that can handle some of the really difficult applications, but I’ve got most of the guys trained with ten or more years of experience.”
Affect on Future of Mobility
Drew Dayton, Yokohama Tire’s Sr. product planning manager, says the larger diameter wheel trend is also evident in the growing EV market.
“OEM tires on EVs do have a higher focus on rolling resistance to help improve the vehicle’s range,” says Dayton. “The demands of EVs are driving tire manufacturers to push the performance of their tires to meet the vehicle’s high-torque requirements while keeping the rolling resistance and wear at balanced levels.”
Manufacturers like Hankook Tire say that with ride-sharing and electric vehicles (EVs) becoming more prevalent, the need for larger rim diameters becomes more prevalent as well.
“EVs require tires that can withstand the weight of the vehicle because the batteries are extremely heavy,” Park says. “When EVs first appeared in the market, fuel efficiency was the biggest challenge, so there was a great need for weight reduction in tires and rims. As EV technology advances and demand increases, we expect to see an evolution of rim diameters that [continue to] match the needs of the vehicle.”
At the base, the concept sounds tough. To keep up with EV growth in the market, manufacturers need to make tires that are both lightweight to save on fuel yet sturdy to support the weight of EVs.
However, Park says manufacturers like Hankook are attempting to create just that.
“EV tires sold to ordinary consumers are not much different from regular tire sizes,” he says.“Therefore, we are no longer looking at narrow and large rim sizes as lightweight tires, but are researching and developing ways to make them lightweight for all tire sizes.”