M/T (mud terrain) tires have been around for decades, yet in recent years have now become a much larger segment. Why? Consumers now have two different desires for M/T products, which has expanded the size range and market volumes.
Imagine this scene: A man in a tuxedo and woman in a designer evening gown dressed for an evening at the opera climb out of a jacked-up 4×4 with 40-in. OD M/T tires for the evening’s activities. Does the style of the rig and tires “fit” this scenario? Not for the initial purpose of the tires and the rig configuration, as it is doubtful the entrance to the opera is a mud-bog. However, even though the application and challenges of getting in and out don’t quite fit the scenario, the tires and rig do make them look and feel like “rugged individualists,” creating the image or appearance this consumer wants.
The vehicle, lift kits, and the tire selection were designed for the ability to go into the river bottoms for fishing and back from the mud onto solid ground, or even more severe mud and terrain challenges. If the owner does use this rig for its designed purpose, then this application makes sense on logical “design” and application levels.
Herein lies the challenge of this growing segment. It is your challenge to help the customer select the tire that fits their needs. Are they after appearance (look) or application (action – use of the engineering and construction to get through the mud and back)?
The appearance portion of this group may want something with the “look” of the mud tire, but really “want” something that “feels” better the majority of the time on the road, or in moderate off-road conditions. In essence, does the vehicle, and the tires, provide the “civility” that fits with his or her real lifestyle? Are the trade-offs worth it?
The application group are the customers who intend to use the tires and rig as designed. They want and need the tires for getting farther into nature, or the wilds, where few have gone, way off the beaten path – even locations where you best have a winch and a land anchor, or a second rig, to help get you through!
These are the two distinct customer groups for the M/T tire. One is the scenario for the vehicle owner who wants to appear as if they could go anywhere in any condition. The other end of the spectrum is the owner who really needs the extra capabilities and benefits of the tire engineering that go into M/T tires.
In between these two extremes is the customer who may actually be more comfortable and satisfied with an A/T (all-terrain) tire, or the newer trend of the R/T (rugged terrain) tire, where the traditional features of the M/T tire are slightly detuned to gain some more comfort and “street-able” features.
What can you do to ensure your customer is satisfied with the selection of a particular tire? Discover what they want, need, desire, and expect… and deliver with the tire that meets or exceeds those expectations. An important part of this equation is making sure the customer understands the trade-offs so there are no surprises. For instance, M/T tires unquestionably provide unrivaled off-road and mud traction with aggressive tread blocks and reinforced sidewalls designed to withstand jagged rocks.
However, they are noisier on paved roads, have shorter tread life, are less effective in cold weather, have less traction in the rain, are less fuel-efficient than A/T tires, and often don’t include a manufacturer warranty.
A/T tires are a compromise, designed to perform well under a variety of off-road conditions while still offering acceptable on-highway performance. This is accomplished through a tread pattern design with tighter lugs than M/T tires. Of course, A/T tires do not perform as well as M/T tires in the more demanding off-road environments.
The R/T (rugged terrain) tire is a relatively new tire design and designation with on- and off-road performance between the A/T and M/T tire types. R/T tires generally feature large open voids and knobby sidewall tread to help move in mud, as well as siped tread lugs to improve traction in wet and icy conditions. All R/T tires have the M+S mud and snow rating and some also have the three-peak mountain snowflake advanced snow rating, making them a great choice for street use, icy roads and unimproved snow- and mud-covered trails.
Over a lifetime, from the mid-twentieth century in the USA, the market for light truck tires has shifted and expanded from highway and off/road (technically mud tires) to a spectrum – a wide range of highway tires to A/T, and now a wide growing segment of R/T, and to the most aggressive M/T tires.
To ensure you have a satisfied customer, the “interview” is critical for ascertaining what they are really after in a tire and what they are willing to “give up,” particularly if they are replacing the A/T OE tires with an M/T tire.
If they are after maximum ability to get into the deepest mud and back out and will accept the louder highway noise, reduced ride comfort and other M/T tire trade-offs, then put them on M/T tires.
You will, however, interview consumers who are not willing to accept the trade-offs of a dedicated “get-me-out-there-and-back M/T tire.” They may be drawn to the gnarly “look” of the M/T tire but their version of off-roading is more on the tame side. They may appreciate the more sophisticated ride characteristics and other positive attributes of A/T tires. It is up to you to find their satisfaction level in the spectrum from M/T to a more civilized R/T, or somewhere in the range of A/T configurations.
If the customer is after a luxury car ride for their 4×4, there exist milder, more civilized tires in available A/T products. For those who really experience mud, deep mud – the more mud you throw the faster you go is the name of the game – the gnarlier the better!
When your customer wants to drive where no man or woman has been before (or not been lately) you want to fit their beast with the gnarliest, mudslinging, deep-lug tires available.
To maintain the customer, and possibly a greater following via word-of-mouth, be sure to be forthcoming with the best, most accurate information, educating the consumer on what they indicated they want, and what they should expect from their selection. And you may wish to do one more thing – get them back in for a free rotation before 4,500 miles are logged on the new tires. By doing so you can diagnose (and possibly correct) any potential noise and ride factors long before they become noticeable.
David Shelton is director of industry relations for Giti Tire USA.