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Shifting Sizes: Keeping Up is Key as OEMs Roll Out New Models

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Earlier this year, we spoke to a number of tire and wheel manufacturers to find out where the size trend is heading. What we found was while aftermarket wheel manufacturers are moving to smaller diameter wheels, OEMs are still pushing tire manufacturers to build larger diameter UHP tires that deliver style, performance and high treadwear in a complete package.

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Now that we have the 2009 production model year behind us and are seeing the first of the 2010s arrive, you will notice a trend emerging as we paint this picture.

The 2010 Lincoln MKXSince most buyers are compromising on size to gain fuel economy, the new 2010 Lincoln MKX targets the mid-size luxury CUV market, competing against the likes of the Acura MDX and Lexus RX330.

The MKX offers both an 18- and 20-inch tire option, each V-rated. There will be a 22-inch tire option for the Special/Limited Edition versions.

Compare this to the Lexus RX330, which has a 235/60R18 tire as standard. In addition, Lexus is following many European trends with an optional 19×7.5-inch wheel wrapped with a 235/55R19 V-rated tire.

I’m seeing 19-inch tires pop up more and more and I don’t really understand why. The Range Rover Sport uses a 255/50R19 and typically it is not the quickest tire to get your hands on. The prices are astronomical compared to most equivalent 20-inch options.

On the positive side, expect to see these customers in your shop in a year or so, because most of these tires are only going to last about 20,000 miles.

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Where Luxury Follows
The Acura MDX follows the Lexus with an 18-inch standard tire and wheel, plus a 19-inch option in both silver and “chrome-look” finish.

Looking across the board at the luxury brands, we see the same scenario. Most start with an 18-inch tire and offer the 19- or 20-inch option, which we know will be more expensive to replace. For the more conservative CUV buyer, the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V come with 16- and 17-inch tires as standard equipment, respectively. Each offers plus-size upgrades, but at least the choice of having a not too expensive tire is available.

The mid-size SUV market seems to be stabilizing, at least for the moment, in the 16-, 17- and 18-inch LT sizes. The Nissan Pathfinder is still offering a 16-inch option, while the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander sit on standard 17-inch tires and wheels. Toyota is also offering a 245/55R19 option for the Highlander, as well. I researched this size and found that the Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 is the only all-season tire available. It is an S-rated tire that will cost the consumer more than $200 each.

The full-size SUVs are primarily sitting on 17-, 18- and 20-inch tire options across the board. The Cadillac Escalade is offered with a standard 18-inch package, but the 22-inch option is still the most commonly seen on the lot. The Chevy Tahoe, one of the most heavily restyled vehicles of the last two decades, is rarely seen with anything bigger than 22-inch diameter wheels now. GM’s own accessory group, ADI, has eliminated all wheels above 22 inches for the Tahoe, which follows the trend in the aftermarket wheel industry.

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As for the new Dodge Ram 1500 (or Fiat Ram 1500, whichever the case may be), it is holding steady with the 17-inch diameter introduced in 2002, but has a few 20-inch options.

As production of large SUVs starts again, I suspect that the overall trend will be toward the standard sizes, rather than the larger diameter. This follows the prediction that many thought would happen as the market slowed.

Middle of the Pack
Taking a look at several mid-sized sedans, what I see is that most vehicles are arriving with the same diameters as they have had for several years now. One example is the Nissan Altima, which is riding on 16-inch T-rated tires, but has an optional 17-inch V-rated package to satisfy the affluent consumer who wants the improved look and handling of this package.

The Chevy Impala, one of the best selling cars in America, follows the same path with 16- and 17-inch options for the LS and LT trim packages, but sports an 18-inch option for the LTZ and SS. The Honda Accord has a 16-inch H-rated tire as standard with a 17-inch V-rated tire for the upper trim packages. The Toyota Camry has the same offering.

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Based on this research, it appears we will need to stock the same basic 16-inch T- and H-rated tires that we have for nearly a decade, but perhaps add some of the 17-inch V-rated tires to the mix.

On the economy end of the scale, cars like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevy Cobalt all offer similar small economical standard tire sizes in the 15- and 16-inch range. The Yaris promises to have a 14-inch tire available, too, which I think is a mistake because that diameter is nearly dead as a stocking size.

For the new era of muscle cars, it is all about living large. The 2010 Camaro recently rolled onto the streets of America. The base V6 car comes with 18-inch tires with an option for 19 inches, which again is not a wise choice. The V8 cars get staggered 20-inch wheels with a 21-inch option from the dealership.

Why 21 inches is anyone’s guess, since the aftermarket will have 22-inch wheels ready by SEMA and the tire will not cost anywhere near as much as the 21-inch size.

I checked the price of the 21-inch tires that GM lists for the Camaro: the front tires will retail for $450 each and the rear tires for more than $575 each! Compare this to 22-inch tires for $210 and $350, respectively.

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The 2010 Ford Mustang still starts out with 17-inch tires on the V6 model, 18-inch tires on the GT V8 and a 19-inch option for the GT Premium. The Dodge Challenger is very similar with 17-inch tires on the base models and going up to 20 inches for the R/T and SRT-8 models.

This is in line with what you would expect for a performance car. I would suggest keeping an eye on import brand prices in these sizes, because I know that the consumer who buys these cars is going to push them hard, only to realize the high cost of the replacement tires later. They will be looking for a low cost alternative to the OE tires, I can assure you.

The picture is now clear: the economy and mid-sized vehicles are being sold with a reasonable tire size and speed rating, but provide larger diameters as options instead of assuming that every consumer is willing and able to pay for large diameter tires and wheels.

Most of the people we have spoken to who are directly involved with OE supply have told us that the 18- and 20-inch diameter will remain constant for most of the CUVs, SUVs and trucks on the market, with the exception of special packages and limited editions appealing to the buyer who has the bucks to pay for the 22- and 24-inch options.

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Speaking of which, we are now several years into 20-inch OE sizes. These tires are getting bald, so I would suggest starting to stock the 275/55R20 and 275/60R20 sizes in the near future, if you haven’t already.

Be very mindful of the OE tire construction and load index when replacing these tire sizes. I checked the 275/60R20 size with a multi-line supplier and found P-metric, Euro-metric, standard load and extra load construction. The same air pressure in each of these tires equates to different load carrying capacities.

Believe me, you need to focus on the little things, or else you will be on the news being blamed for an incorrect tire application – one that has led to a lawsuit.

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