Last-mile delivery demand continues to grow, boosting the tire market

Last-mile delivery demand continues to grow, boosting the tire market

Tire dealers are in an ideal position to grow their commercial business and increase profits.

It’s no surprise that consumers still value the convenience of online shopping and home delivery of countless products. What had already been trending upward prior to the pandemic exploded in 2020, when additional demand from homebound consumers drove retailers to deliver more, faster. The trend is here to stay, significantly affecting the last-mile delivery (LMD) tire landscape.

The continued surge in two-day, next-day, and overnight shipping has brought even more demand for LMD tires, which already had seen a decade of steady sales growth.

According to Timothy Netzel, director of TBR brand marketing for Bridgestone Americas, the continuous growth of the LMD segment and proven societal value since the pandemic has shaped a last mile delivery landscape that is driven by innovation and constant creativity.

“In particular, as last mile continues to grow, there is a focus on finding new ways to make vehicles more sustainable and more efficient,” he says. “The constant evolution of the segment has demanded that tire manufacturers remain agile and create products and solutions that not only benefit the vehicles of today, but also those of tomorrow.”

Tire dealers are in an ideal position to grow their commercial business and increase profits thanks to this segment, but it’s important to understand how LMD tires differ from traditional light truck (LT) tires. Dealers also should keep up with customer expectations and market trends to find success in this segment.

Vehicle trends

Prior to delving into the technology and features that make up LMD tires, it’s important to understand the nuances of the vehicles in this segment. Vehicles like Mercedes Sprinter vans carry heavy loads and operate in stop-and-go traffic conditions and urban environments that demand a highly durable tire.

“The LMD segment is still evolving and has yet to be truly defined by a single class or size,” Netzel says. “However, we can see the general trajectory of this segment. A key evolution in LMD has been the shift to smaller vehicles such as sprinters and step vans.”

Smaller traditional consumer vehicles like these require tires that range from 16- to 17-inch rim diameters, as well as vehicles that require the traditional 19.5-in. size, according to Netzel.

“There also are many small- to medium-sized fleet owners now working in the space,” he adds. “At Bridgestone, our goal is to remain nimble in our ability to support LMD customers, no matter their fleet setup.”

Tire performance & technology

Since LMD tires fill a specific niche in the marketplace — and, in turn, are designed to meet a set of unique criteria — tiremakers must provide technology to match. Key attributes range from durability and fuel efficiency to features that minimize downtime.

“Due to the urban environments in which LMD fleets operate, tire durability remains a vital factor in the development of tires for this segment,” Netzel says. “These fleets require durable tires to keep up with the frequent starts and stops along their route. Drivers are regularly twisting and turning and need a cut- and chip-resistant tread compound to deliver overall wear life, as well as traction for stops and startups in wet or winter climates.”

Tires with characteristics that drive fuel efficiency, as well as range and battery efficiency for EVs, recently have become an industry focus, Netzel adds. Overall cost is top of mind for LMD fleets, so tires that reduce rolling resistance and help deliver improved gas mileage have proven critical to a company’s bottom line.

“Uptime is uniquely critical when delivering goods and services directly to consumers,” Netzel says. “A flat tire could mean packages are not delivered in a timely manner and business takes a hit. That’s why the best-run tire programs are pairing premium tires with digital tools that leverage data to alert potential issues before they become real problems.”

In order to meet these stringent demands, tires in this segment must have the technology to stand up to the day-to-day workload of LMD vehicles.

“Tires manufactured for this segment must have all-position and all-season characteristics,” Netzel says. “Solid traction in wet conditions and consistent tire wear when carrying heavy loads are necessary for last mile fleets, ensuring strong, quiet and fuel-efficient performance.”

He adds that casing durability is also essential in the LMD space and plays a critical role in tire retreading. Tires that can be retreaded multiple times extend the value of the tire and provide a sustainable impact.

Tire options to meet consumer needs

With the advancement of tire technology and the growing importance of environmentally friendly products, dealers should remind customers what sustainable products and solutions they have at their disposal that extend tire life and reduce the consumption of natural resources.

“At Bridgestone, we advise all customers to pair highly retreadable premium tires with digital tools to ensure the most miles out of each tire,” Netzel says. “This approach lowers the total cost of ownership and keeps more tire waste out of landfills through retreading.”

According to Netzel, on the more traditional side, Bridgestone offers the R238 and M729 (traction) in 17.5- and 19.5-inch sizes, along with the Firestone FS561 and Firestone Transforce AT Commercial. Bridgestone also offers the Bandag UP2 and BDR-AS for retreading. In the 16- to 17-inch space, Bridgestone’s lineup includes the Duravis R500 and Duravis R238, along with the Firestone Transforce HT and Transforce CV.

“Bridgestone has plans to launch a new Duravis product in five sizes later this year, designed especially for the emerging LMD segment,” Netzel says. “This will be followed by another product in 17.5- and 19.5-inch rim sizes in 2025. These new products will also be accompanied by a matching Bandag retread in the future, adding to the enhanced retreadability of these products.”

The Bridgestone Commercial Dealer Network, with more than 2,500 points of distribution and service across North America, ensures that fleets of any size have a consistent experience while maintaining a safe, sustainable environment, according to Netzel. Dealer services include 24/7 mobile tire services, new and retreaded tires, mounted wheel programs, wheel refurbishing, fleet yard service, flat repairs and limited mechanical repairs along with solutions deployment.

Future segment growth

It’s clear to see that LMD fleets are becoming a staple of consumers’ lives — a trend that is not likely to reverse anytime soon.

In addition, the growth of electric vehicles is expected to impact the LMD space further. As fleet owners look to achieve their sustainability goals, electrification of fleets is becoming a more common approach for LMD, according to Netzel.

“Today, seemingly all major retailers provide options to deliver goods and services to your door, making consistent growth for the segment a near inevitability,” he says. “At Bridgestone, we are focused on helping LMD fleets of all sizes capitalize on the segment’s rapid rise. We aim to achieve this by not only providing premium, high-quality tires but also digital solutions to give everyone the knowledge needed to get the most out of their operation.”

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