Trying to stay up with automotive trends is a lot like keeping up with fashion. What’s hot today is soon in the rear-view mirror, left in the dust by the next cool thing.
From the hot rods to muscle cars and from tuners and the big SUV luxury crowd, one trend always gives way to the next big thing. And, while tuners and luxo-SUVs aren’t yet fading into the woodwork, a new breed of modifier is here, presenting new challenges to tire dealers.
Called “VIP style,” this latest form of modification is not about speed or handling. It’s all about aesthetics. Think style and class, not flash.
According to a recent story in SEMA News, VIP style appeals to early adopter, sport-compact enthusiasts who are now hitting their 30s and no longer content squeezing horsepower out of older Acuras, Hondas, Toyotas or Nissans.
Instead, they are applying some of the same tuner restyling principles to larger, four-door sedans. Admittedly, the cars are relatively inexpensive primarily older Lexus, Acura, Mazda and Infiniti models but like tuners, the VIP style crowd puts its money into upgrades. Instead of spoilers, wild paint schemes and computer-tweaked drivetrains, VIP stylers go with sleek, subtle and understated body modifications and dark usually black paint colors, classy interiors and monster sound systems.
When it comes to tires and wheels, though, that ‘understated’ styling poses some special challenges, according to Nick Fousekis, brand manager for Falken Tire Corp. “VIP style customers are looking for a wide range of sizes,” he said, “in a distinguished and high-class touring tire. They’re not looking for weekend warrior, track-attack-type tires or traditional tuner tires. They want more of a Euro-themed touring design.”
While that sounds simple, there’s more. To get the right look, typical VIP stylers go for lowering kits, side skirts, front and rear bumpers and tinted windows. They want a sleek, low-slung body just a couple of inches off the ground. When it comes to tires and wheels, the focus is on ‘the perfect fit.’
What is that ‘perfect fit?’ Fousekis says it’s very calculated. They want big 19- to 22-inch wheels with deep lips, provided they are proportional to the car. They don’t want a weak look. Rather, they want to fill the wheel wells. The alignment must be set to allow the tire to hide slightly behind the fender, keeping the wheel fully exposed. Oh, and this is most important, the outside of the tire and wheel must be dead flush with the body.
And, one other thing: The ultra-low aspect ratio tire actually has to be somewhat undersized for the wheel width. The effect stretches the tire sidewall but is not recommended practice.
In an example Falken uses, a traditional fitment for a 19×8 wheel would be a 235/35R19 tire. For a VIP fitment, that same tire size would be shoehorned onto a 19×8.5 wheel. The resulting slight sidewall bulge is countered by a well exposed rim lip.
Where rim protectors are all the rage with tuners, VIP stylers aren’t the least bit concerned. Where tuners want an aggressive track-like tread design, VIP stylers are interested in the aesthetics of the wheel lip/tire sidewall/vehicle body interface.
That style point raises some serious safety issues companies like Falken are quite concerned about. Fousekis says Falken doesn’t condone such extreme fitments, but does offer a tire the FK452 that has a more rounded shoulder, creating the desired effect without undersizing the tire and straining the taunt sidewalls of an ultra-low profile radial.
“The key issue with VIP style customers is they want their cars to look elegant, classy,” Fousekis says. “They want tires and wheels that give the right stance and are proportional to the car.”
Tire dealers, he says, need to be aware of this trend and be prepared to provide the products and service these buyers want all while making sure that they don’t create unnecessary safety and liability issues.
Like everything else in the motoring world, the VIP style segment pushes the envelope of looks and performance. Dealers need to make sure their customers don’t push their luck.