Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati, Lamborghini…Try Subaru, Cadillac, Land Rover and Volkswagen.
Over the past 10 years, those in the industry have noticed the definition of ultra-high performance tires change in size and scope. What traditionally was only fitted on Porsches and Bentleys is now regularly outfitted on Nissans and BMWs. What is the reason for this? A merging of two segments that meets the needs of a customer group that demands more performance out of their tires than ever before.
The traditional definition of ultra-high performance – any tire V-rated or higher – is no longer upheld by tire manufacturers. That definition focuses too much on speed and ignores specific characteristics that differentiate UHP tires from touring or broadline.
Today, the segment is still largely defined by speed rating – now W-rated and higher – but has been further segmented to call attention to specific performance characteristics. For example, there are M+S-rated “all-season” UHP tires and “summer” UHPs. Tiremakers even offer extreme UHP products that focus solely on high-speed performance.
“At one time most any tire that had a V speed rating or higher got lumped into the UHP category,” says Bob Abram, Yokohama Tire Corp. product planning manager. “Now, it isn’t uncommon to see 18-inch V-rated tires on a Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion.”
“Over the past decade, we’ve seen capabilities expand to match the ever evolving automotive market allowing performance levels to continuously improve,” said Steve Carpino, vice president of research and development at Pirelli Tire North America.
Because the industry continues to move toward “bigger and faster,” the UHP sale is no longer dependent on size and speed rating.
“You have to understand how your customer is going to use the tire and what attributes will satisfy them, regardless of the size,” adds Abram.
However, the UHP tire is no longer just an enthusiast purchase. Although they are at the heart of the market, as Abram notes, automakers are broadening the customer range by making UHP tires OE on a broader range of vehicle models.
“Vehicles are far more aesthetically appealing with a larger wheel and tire package filling the wheel well,” offers Marc Sanzenbacher, senior manager of Toyo Tire USA Corp.’s competition performance products division.
Not only are OEMs after the aesthetics of a larger tire, they’re also after the performance aspects.
“There is the potential for increased handling performance from lower profile UHP tires, and improved stopping distance because of larger disc brakes the larger wheel diameters allow. Additionally, OEMs want tires that are safe and fun to drive,” says Sanzenbacher. “This means delivering the shortest possible stopping distance on both wet and dry road as well as excitement in handling of the vehicle.”
According to Giti Tire (USA) Inc. director of product marketing David Shelton, the majority of vehicles outfitted with UHP tires today are sport- and luxury-sedans, as well as SUVs and CUVs. “These aren’t the typical enthusiast vehicles but they’re running V-, W- and Y-rated tires,” says Shelton.
For that reason, automakers are increasingly interested in delivering more “creature comforts” in an UHP tire such as low/no ride noise, comfort and precision (defined by Shelton as the ability of the tire to allow a vehicle to perform as expected). Because of this demand, Shelton claims that the UHP segment is heading toward a blend of traditional ultra-high performance coupled with grand touring all-season comforts and value.
“Drivers want all-season capability and comfort. They don’t want to be slapped up against the window, but they do want the performance,” says Shelton. “In that way, UHP and grand touring all-season are blending and creating a new, huge market.”
And because of CAFE standards and shifting consumer attitude, automakers are after higher fuel efficiency, which means that tires that deliver lower rolling resistance.
“Automakers are developing more products that require more from premium UHP tires. This shifts the focus of tiremakers in the same direction to meet the added demand for performance and lower rolling resistance,” says Pirelli’s Steve Ewing, product manager.
Four Season Capabilities
In the North American market, M+S rated UHP tires are the fastest growing segment, outpacing summer tire sales, according to tiremakers.
“Regardless of tire type, people will continue to want more out of their tires. For all-season UHPs, that means treadwear and winter traction,” adds Yokohama’s Abram. The tiremaker recently introduced its newest UHP all-season tire – the Advan Sport A/S – featuring a 50,000-mile limited treadwear warranty.
And just as automakers demand fuel efficiency and traction and handling for their OE tires, other safety aspects are growing in importance.
“Automobile manufacturers are incorporating more and more technological systems that will assist the driver. These systems will do essential things like stop for you to avoid a collision, which means that tires must become an integral part of that system,” says Giti’s Shelton.
Giti Tire debuted a new all-season UHP tire under its GT Radial brand this month. The GT Radial Champiro UHP A/S is designed to meet OEM and consumer demands. Shelton describes the tire as a UHP that handles light snow conditions with the comforts that one would expect in a grand touring all-season tire. Giti isn’t targeting the Corvette driver; rather, Shelton identified the Cadillac ATS Compact Sport Sedan and CTS Sport Sedan, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Volkswagen Passat CC, and Subaru Impreza as the tire’s target vehicles.
Similarly, Toyo offers its Toyo Proxes 4 UHP tire for all-season customers. According to the company, this tire is designed for high-powered sports cars, and comes with up to a 50,000-mile warranty.
A Smarter Sell
This all being said, tire dealers should not assume that a customer with a newer vehicle is always searching for an UHP tire. As with any tire, understanding your customer’s needs and driving habits is paramount to making the UHP sale.
“It isn’t uncommon today to see 18-inch V-rated tires on a Toyota Camry or Ford Fusion,” says Yokohama’s Abram. “But you can’t think that every customer with a 245/40R19 is a UHP customer, whether that size is fitted to a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, a BMW 550i or a Buick LaCrosse,” he says, reminding that same size could be available as H-rated or as a HP or even grand touring tire.
Abram tells Tire Review that dealers should make the UHP sale to those customers that really value an exciting driving experience and demand better cornering and stopping power. But make sure that the speed-rating of the new tires match that of the take-offs.
As always, it’s important to understand how the tires perform in certain climates and how the customer expects them to perform. M+S-rated UHP tires will not perform as desired in serious wintry conditions, making winter tires a must for Northern regions of the U.S. and much of Canada.
“Tire dealers need to be aware of the specific performance characteristics of each HP or UHP product on their product screen so that they can best suggest an appropriate product,” says Toyo’s Sanzenbacher. “As consumers become more aware of UHP tires and their role in the handling and driving characteristics of their vehicle, they are becoming savvier about what driving characteristics are most important to them, whether that be wet weather traction, fuel economy, treadwear, etc.”
As far as service is concerned, Pirelli’s Ewing notes that most traditional mounting and balancing systems can accommodate wheel diameters for the larger UHP additions.
With more and more automakers incorporating UHP products as OE and tire manufacturers ramping up efforts to offer consumers a more comfortable yet precise driving experience, UHP is not a segment to ignore.