When working with a well-informed customer base, it’s vital for tire dealers to be up to speed on tire features, performance and options. This is definitely the case when it comes to UHP summer tires, as these performance drivers usually know what they want out of their replacement tires.
Whether it’s for a sporty daily driver or weekends spent at the track, it’s up to the dealer to help these customers weigh their options and choose the right rubber for the road. We spoke with representatives from several tire manufacturers who share the unique trends, features and demands of UHP summer tires.
Overall Market Stays Stable
The market has remained relatively flat since 2014 for UHP summer tires with “W” speed ratings and higher, according to David Poling, director of tire development & product marketing for Giti Tire R&D Center (North America) Inc. Within the segment, there has been growth in larger rim diameters and lower aspect ratios, which mirror the trends of other markets, he adds.
“The segment has remained relatively stable for the last decade, but, as usual, the big numbers don’t tell the whole story,” says Duane Sampson, Yokohama Tire product manager of PCR. “UHP summer applications on SUVs are increasing, as are the relevant rim diameters. The 22-in. UHP summer tire volume still grew through the COVID-19-plagued 2020. While there are still high-volume sizes in 17- and 18-in. rim diameters, the future of UHP summer is 19 in. and above.”
The segment’s flatness, and even a slight decline according to Daniel Kelly, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, U.S. and Canada, is due in part to the increasing popularity of UHP all-season tires.
“With that said, for drivers looking to get the most performance out of their sports cars, sports sedans, and sporty crossovers in the warmer months, UHP summer tires still offer the best performance,” he says.
Kevin Arima, senior product manager for Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., adds that as sporty light trucks are becoming originally equipped with high-performance tires featuring larger rim diameters, lower aspect ratios and higher speed ratings, it will help drive the replacement market.
“The sports car and light truck segment continues to evolve with EVs and in support of those performance demands, a UHP tire that can apply that power to the pavement without sacrificing many of the other ride characteristics becomes important,” he adds.
Trends Within the Segment
Within the UHP summer segment, there are many trends affecting the products these consumers may seek when it comes to tire replacement.
“In this segment, there have been continued efforts toward pushing the limits,” says David Shelton, director of industry relations for Giti Tire USA. “[There has been] a great deal more effort in tailoring products to focus on improving and designing the tires for a specific sub-category, and then taking that better all-around performance and providing more tread life for street use.”
Currently on the market are UHP summer tires dedicated for track day use, autocross use, DOT legal race tires, drift tires and great-performing UHP street tires, Shelton adds.
“Today, amateur drivers are attending an ever-increasing number of sanctioned high-performance driving events,” says Tsuyoshi Johnson, product manager of PCR tires for Falken Tires. “From local track days to national autocross events, the typical weekend warrior is an educated consumer who knows what they’re after: UHP tires that tailor to their uber-specific needs. Combine this sentiment with the tremendous improvements in tire technology of late, and you get demand for a variety of UHP summer tires with distinct strengths and focal points.”
This is why manufacturers have developed several sub-segments within the UHP summer category over the last decade, he adds.
“In the past, the general UHP summer title was used to encompass all products that fell under the traditional performance summer tire segment,” Johnson explains. “But, as the performance of tires in this segment has continued to improve and evolve, it’s necessitated the creation of more specific sub-categories. A few of these are max summer, extreme summer, competition summer, as well as more recent names like super UHP and hyper summer. The tires in each of these segments can be differentiated by their unique compounds, varying tread designs and respective UTQG treadwear ratings.”
Top Performance Demands
What do consumers in this segment seek when it comes to performance attributes of their UHP summer tires? While the nuances may vary depending on their intended use of the tires, there are several baseline expectations.
Since the UHP summer tire segment originated in Europe, grip and handling on both dry and wet road conditions are very important, as these tires were developed to meet European-specific wet-weather conditions and high-speed driving conditions, according to Jay Lee, product planning director for Nexen Tire.
Giti Tire R&D Center’s Poling explains that tire usage profiles can be lumped into four distinct categories:
- Base level is a daily driver with between 200-600 horsepower whose owner wants dry traction and handling, but also wants some amount of treadwear and low level of noise since they are driving the vehicle every day. These fitments require more wet traction, since they may see more days in the rain. This first category is by far the largest volume.
- The second category is when you begin to step up to the sports cars that are driven on a limited basis with more horsepower and more enthusiasm behind the wheel and at the gas pedal. These drivers are looking for maximum dry grip as they push their sports cars to the limit and expect their tires to be able to handle these extremes.
- The third category is even more extreme, demanding higher levels of grip by enthusiasts with high horsepower in both stock and modified cars who drive their cars even harder on the road and occasionally at the track.
- The fourth category is the track-only tire fitments that are used on modified cars at the track and require the highest level of dry grip and responsiveness.
“The sports car of today has both the power of a supercar and the refinement of a luxury car of yesteryear,” says Yokohama Tire’s Sampson. “As the level of sophistication of modern vehicles increases, the need for a sophisticated tire raises, as well. While the constant aspect of dry grip has not changed, UHP summer tires now need to also incorporate [reduced] road noise and even rolling resistance to address the customer’s needs of today and tomorrow.”
Tire Technology & Design Features
In order to meet these extreme demands, manufacturers must design UHP summer tires with a multitude of attributes.
“Tires need to provide maximum stiffness and rigidity out of their pattern and compounds to enable superior dry handling, while at the same time providing the necessary tire void and compounding for excellent wet traction,” says Björn-B. Gläser, product manager of performance tires, PLT Americas, for Continental Tire. “Premium manufacturers spend a high level of effort optimizing the pattern design to ensure a comfortable, quiet ride — and while this is not the core focus of this segment, it is one of the added benefits of premium UHP summer tires.”
To secure the wet grip, tire companies need to adopt a silica-based compound, as well as reinforce the tire structure — especially the belts — for high-speed endurance, according to Nexen Tire’s Lee.
“Optimizing the contact patch is one of the key design features of a UHP summer tire,” says Toyo Tire’s Arima. “This is done through computer-aided engineering and understanding the loading characteristics that a performance tire needs. Lateral and longitudinal grip in dry and wet is the most sought-after performance characteristic of a UHP summer tire. Utilizing high silica compounds, coupled with circumferential grooves, help to create a well-balanced, high-grip UHP summer tire.”
Falken Tires’ Johnson says the two most important performance aspects of a UHP summer tire are structural integrity and the endurance to sustain the brutal effects of high-performance driving.
“For most performance-minded drivers, a responsive tire is so crucial. We can’t overstate the importance of a tire that effectively propels the vehicle in the direction its driver has in mind,” he explains. “This may seem obvious, but there’s more to this than simply developing a ‘sticky’ compound. If a tire’s internal construction and tread pattern layout aren’t dialed in, it’ll be impossible to make the most of a great compound. Thus, it’s critical that each aspect of the tire is designed to work in unison to provide the level of vehicle predictability high-performance drivers demand. Additionally, it’s important for any UHP tire that its performance remains consistent as it heats up and goes through heat cycling.”
Meeting Customers’ Nuanced Needs
As with any enthusiast segment, it’s important for tire dealers to be knowledgeable about UHP summer tire features and uses when serving these customers.
“Many customers in this category are considered enthusiasts and have more than likely done their homework and know the performance capabilities they are looking for,” TBC Corp.’s Vance explains. “The key to serving these customers usually comes down to availability of the fitment. Proper installation is also critical given the sensitive nature of these tires.”
Ask questions with an open mind, as key needs will come up in a discussion with the customer, advises Yokohama Tire’s Sampson.
“When the dealer has the knowledge base of the nuanced attributes of each UHP summer tire in regard to longevity, performance, fitments and availability, the right product will present itself,” he says. “The customer who has the ability to have a UHP summer tire on their vehicle will likely be more discerning and latch onto a specific attribute more than the typical tire buyer.”
The key is to understand how a customer is going to use their car and tires, adds Continental Tire’s Gläser, explaining that while some simply enjoy matching their performance car with a performance tire, others look for maximum performance for track events. This influences the importance of certain characteristics and tradeoffs — for instance, in some cases a customer may be willing to trade tread life, wet performance and ride comfort to gain dry performance.
“There are typically two consumer groups for the UHP segment,” says Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations’ Kelly. “The first group of consumers are true enthusiasts who love driving spiritedly and seek out performance tires to get the most out of their vehicle. The second group of consumers owns a vehicle originally equipped with performance tires, but prioritizes other performance characteristics, such as wet and dry traction and long-lasting tread wear. As always, Bridgestone recommends that dealers work closely with their customers to understand performance expectations, which will help to determine the best tire to meet those requirements, while complementing the demands of their performance or luxury vehicle.”
“It’s important to know what type of weather conditions your customers encounter throughout the year,” Falken Tires’ Johnson advises. “Certain UHP summer products are designed using specialized rubber compounds with higher glass transition temperatures needed for peak performance in mild, dry conditions. Because of this, it’s not ideal for these tires to be used when temperatures drop near or below freezing. The rubber can get brittle and cracking may occur if the tires aren’t gradually brought back to milder temperatures in a controlled manner.”
He also recommends dealers discuss tire wear life expectations with customers, as there are several factors that, when combined, may cause some frustration for customers who don’t fully understand what they’re buying into.
“For one, these tires are simply designed to prioritize dry grip at the expense of wear life,” Johnson explains. “To make matters worse, tire life is directly affected by driving behavior, so the tendency for this consumer group to drive more aggressively can really shorten the lifespan of a UHP summer tire. And, lastly, if the consumer has a staggered setup, their inability to rotate tire positions from drive to non-drive axles will result in more rapid wear overall.”
UHP Summer Tire Options
The manufacturers that provided information for this article recommended the following tire options in this segment:
- Bridgestone Potenza Sport (launching Q2 2021) and Firestone Firehawk Indy 500
- Continental ExtremeContact Sport and General G-Max RS
- Falken Azenis FK510/FK510 SUV
- Nexen N’Fera SU1
- GT Radial Champiro HPY, Champiro SX2 and Champiro SX2 RS
- TBC Corp.: Sumitomo HTR Z5
- Toyo Proxes Sport
- Yokohama Advan Sport V107, Advan Apex, Advan A052 and Advan Neova AD08R