There are tire trends, and then there are tire mega-trends. Crossover vehicles — and, in turn, the luxury CUV segment — fit into the latter category.
In the last five years, luxury CUV sales have exploded, according to Bob Abram, Yokohama Tire senior manager of product planning, who says that the midsize luxury CUV segment—which includes vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz GLE, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90—has grown more than 54% since 2014 and now totals well over 1 million vehicles sold per year.
The compact luxury CUV segment alone—which includes the Audi Q5, Lexus NX and the BMW X3, as examples—sold more than 70,000 units in 2019, while the full-size luxury CUV segment—comprised of vehicles like the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS—has nearly doubled in sales since 2015, according to the Falken Tires’ marketing team.
“More drivers and families are willing to exchange their vehicles, such as wagons and vans, for better-looking CUVs that are just as capable as their old cars,” says Abhishek Bisht, global head of new markets and channels for Apollo Tyres, parent company of Vredestein. “Since this segment is growing and offering more options, so are tire manufacturers. Nowadays, you can expect to get almost any tire seasonality to match your CUV fitment, while providing the performance and durability of a traditional car tire.”
Abram notes that tire dealers should be prepared to stock and offer the consumer a high-value product that fills their needs—which are detailed below—rather than simply settling to find something in their size.
Unique Vehicle Attributes
Luxury CUV manufacturers generally focus on producing a vehicle that balances three things: comfort, convenience and style.
To achieve this balance, OEMs include a variety of features such as heated seats, sound-dampening technology and upgraded infotainment systems, according to the Falken marketing team, that says, “Incorporating these additional features leads to a lot of extra weight, which calls for tires that can support it. Therefore, one common feature among luxury CUV tires is an XL load index.”
Falken marketing adds that while sedans can be bulky, their low center of gravity disperses the weight in a way that places less stress on the tires. Crossovers have a higher center of gravity, making this added weight more difficult for the tires to handle and resulting in luxury CUV tires being built with strong, durable outside shoulder ribs to provide smooth handling, confident stability and overall longevity.
“Typically, wider widths, lower aspect ratios, higher speed ratings, and best-in-class tread compounding and reinforcing materials are indicative of luxury CUV tires,” says Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire.
A large portion of luxury CUV manufacturers feature UHP summer tires as OE fitments. In addition, rim diameters of these vehicles have continually moved up to include 21- and 22-in. fitments, according to Yokohama’s Abram.
“These fitment trends at OE are a little incongruous, as CUVs in all forms are marketed for utility, even at the luxury level,” he says. “These summer fitments usually ring false to the consumers that need utility across terrains or seasons. However, with the large diameters and unique sizes, there are really only a few tires in the market that offer the consumer a legitimate alternative to UHP summer.”
Another important performance aspect of luxury CUV tires is noise reduction.
“Since CUVs are typically based on unibody passenger car platforms, noise is of high concern due to the unibody’s tendency to transmit noise vs. body-on-frame SUVs and trucks,” says Anthony Lee, technical services manager for Toyo Tire U.S.A.’s product planning and technical services. “Special attention is focused on noise and ride to ensure comfort is not compromised from the OEM’s intention.”
“When it comes to external noise, there are two main categories OEMs worry about: road noise and wind noise,” Falken marketing explains. “In general, luxury vehicles are built with sound-dampening features to keep wind noise out of the cabin. This makes the job of a tire manufacturer much more difficult; when there’s no wind noise entering the cabin, road noise becomes much more noticeable.”
As with any niche segment, knowing exactly what the customer wants is key to providing top-notch service. For luxury CUV owners, this means a quiet ride, exceptional wet grip and precise handling, according to Roffler.
“Dealers should ensure they describe the premium performance benefits of luxury CUV tires and offer premium lines, such as the Continental CrossContact LX25, to maintain and potentially improve the premium performance of their luxury vehicles,” he says.
“With the wide variety of tires available for CUVs, it is important to understand the wants and needs of the customer,” adds Lee. “If the customer’s focus is on ride and comfort, the Open Country Q/T will be a great choice. If the customer would like to take his CUV to the mountains or outdoor activities with their family, the Celsius CUV or Open Country A/TIII could be great choices.”
Dealers should discuss a customer’s driving style and consider road conditions in the region when making a recommendation. “This will help them understand whether they need a winter, all-weather, all-season or summer tire,” Bisht says, adding that the company offers products across this range: Wintrac Pro, Quatrac Pro, Hypertrac and Ultrac Vorti, respectively.
“We think the majority of consumers will want a balanced premium tire like our Geolandar X-CV,” says Yokohama’s Abram. “However, another customer may want the ultimate traction and will opt for a summer/winter setup. Another may want an all-terrain tire to take their luxury CUV off the beaten path.”
In general, these consumers are able to spend more on tires, since they’ve already invested in a high-end vehicle, according to Falken marketing. Luxury CUV owners prioritize comfort, therefore demanding tires that do the same.
“We know that drivers will notice even the slightest increase in road noise produced by aftermarket luxury CUV tires, so it’s our job to make sure our products match the smooth, quiet ride provided by the OE tires,” says the Falken marketing team, adding that the tiremaker focused on crossover-specific construction in creating its Ziex CT60 A/S.
The bottom line is that tire dealers likely will face a growing number of luxury CUV customers. Having a cadre of dedicated tires ready to suit the needs of these drivers will serve dealers well.
“Dealers should offer luxury CUV tires not only for excellent profitability, but to keep their customers pleased with their tire purchase by maintaining and improving the premium performance of their vehicles,” Roffler says.
Check out the rest of the June digital edition of Tire Review here.