Technology Sets Pace for Growing Segments - Tire Review Magazine

Technology Sets Pace for Growing Segments

Technology Sets Pace for Growing Segments

Light trucks and SUVs continue to set new sales records, and there’s no sign that the public’s love affair with them is going to cool anytime soon.
Some even estimate that by 2004, North American production of light trucks and SUVs will be 40 percent greater than it is now!
People like the size, image and versatility of these vehicles. But the proliferation of vehicle types and tire sizes and types, as well as the complexity of consumer desires, has made it that much more difficult for today’s tire dealer. To successfully sell in this segment, it is vitally important that you fully understand the customer’s performance desires and exactly how the customer uses their light truck or SUV. More than in any other segment, perhaps, the wrong tire will lead to extreme customer dissatisfaction.

Everyday People

For their part, tire manufacturers are doing a pretty good job segmenting their products to the basic ways consumers use their light trucks and SUVs. And they have applied significant technology to help assure the best possible performance for the intended application.
While consumers love “big trucks,” many also want a car-like ride. Vehicle owners that fall into the ®street-highway® segment of the market account for roughly half of all light truck/SUV tire sales.
This type of customer wants quiet, smooth riding tires with good all-weather traction and handling characteristics. For this type of application, the tire manufacturers have developed products that provide a smoother, quieter ride than a typical light truck tire. Increased emphasis has also been placed on driving safety by using compounds that improve both wet and dry traction. Most of the tires in this segment are P-metrics in 15-, 16- and 17-inch sizes.
One such example is Bridgestone/Firestone’s (BFS) new Bridgestone Dueler H/L. The “H/L” stands for highway luxury. BFS engineers say the design of the tire was computer optimized to provide the best crown and sidewall shape for this type of application. A special ®extended performance compound® is also used to fight the effects of friction-related rubber hardening, which is one of the main reasons why wet surface braking and handling can decline as a tire wears. The tread compound improves wet traction, as well as wear resistance.
The tire also has a special dual layer tread construction with high grip rubber under the tread blocks. As the tread blocks wear, the high grip rubber underneath is exposed. This helps offset the effects that wear can have on wet surface braking and handling performance.

Light Off-Roading

According to Goodyear’s market research, only about 20 percent of light truck/SUV owners say they actually take their vehicles off-road. But that figure jumps to 50 percent if typical recreational uses are included, such as camping, hunting, boating and fishing.
This brings us to the “utility” segment. This group accounts for about a third of all light truck/SUV tire sales. LT-metric sizes are the most common here. Vehicles in this category are used for both on- and off-road driving, hauling and towing, so traction and durability are paramount. This type of customer typically wants a traditional light truck tire.

Extreme Use

There are also SUV and 4×4 owners who want the ultimate in off-road traction. The “extreme traction” segment of the market, which accounts for about 4 to 8 percent of the total market, requires more specialized tires that can handle all the terrain types customers may face, such as mud, sand and rocks.
They want tough multi-ply construction tires that resist punctures and bruises while carrying them across almost any terrain — in almost any kind of weather.
Goodyear’s newest offering for the market is the Wrangler MT/R, which features one of the most aggressive tread patterns available today. It has alligator-like tread blocks and tread notches that extend down the sidewall. According to the company, the new design provides 300 percent more open space in the tire’s footprint and 240 percent more circumferential edges than the tire it replaces (the now retired Wrangler MT).
The Wrangler MT/R is also made with a special silica/carbon black compound that provides improved abrasion resistance and well as increased sidewall reinforcement. Silica delivers nearly three times more tear resistance than carbon black, but does not decrease sidewall flexibility. Silica also provides better grip on wet and slick surfaces, which is why Goodyear and other tire makers use silica in winter tires. Coupled with three plies of polyester, Goodyear says the Wrangler MT/R is also 35 percent less vulnerable to sidewall punctures than its predecessor.

When Looks Count

“Street performance” is another segment of the light truck/SUV tire market that is grabbing attention. It accounts for 4 to 8 percent of the market, and is expected to grow and steal sales from the utility segment. This type of customer wants handling performance and a unique look, and may well be interested in plus-sizing, low profile tires and custom wheels.
 Such a customer deserves special attention because he will often spend a lot more on a trick set of wheels and tires than a typical light truck/SUV owner.

Add-Ons and Upgrades

Don’t forget about the related sales opportunities that go with both street performance and off-road truck tires. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) says the market for off-road truck suspension products is close to $600 million a year!
In-store displays of shocks, sway bars, springs, lift kits and similar products can help educate customers as well as stimulate sales. And hundreds of millions more are spent on other common accessories like bedliners, tie-downs, and appearance products.

Know What They Need

Keep in mind is that many light truck/SUV tire sales are often an upgrade opportunity, not just a replacement sale. These vehicle owners can often be persuaded to purchase top-of-the-line tires that provide extra benefits such as a smoother ride, quieter operation, improved wet weather traction, longer tread life and so forth.
Customers are human, too. Sometimes they forget they occasionally tow a vehicle, or go off-roading more often than they think. Take the time to find out exactly how they use their vehicle and what kind of performance they expect. With the right information you can recommend the right tires and accessory products.®′

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