At Redwood General Tire Service Co., half of the tires sold are V-rated and above. But not all of them are easy sales.
The reluctant high and ultra-high performance tire buyers often question the need for the product itself, according to Alex Feliz, service advisor.
They come to the Redwood City, Calif., dealership unhappy with the original equipment tires fitted on their new vehicles.
“The Honda Civics, the Nissan Maximas, even the BMW 3 series were always sporty, but they’ve gone to another level of sporty. They’ve become cars that require ultra-high performance tires. The best example I can give is a Honda Civic that comes with an 18-inch V-rated tire.”
The problem is many customers do not realize their cars require UHP tires. As an example, Feliz cites a 70-year-old woman who recently came to the dealership driving a Mercedes with 19-inch wheels and low profile tires.
“Car dealers don’t explain at the point of sale because they want to sell the car. They don’t explain that it may be more than the person needs. You’ve got people who don’t necessarily care whether their car is high performance. It requires high performance tires, but how do you get them the comfortable, quiet, long-lasting ride they are after?”
A void to fill
Redwood General Tire’s 40 employees service 50 cars a day. Owner Alpio Barbara is Modern Tire Dealer’s 2016 Tire Dealer of the Year. A commitment to doing what is best for a customer has helped the dealership ring up $12 million in annual sales.
For many Redwood General Tire customers who drive high performance vehicles, what’s best turns out to be all-season UHP tires.
“We try to switch people to an ultra-high performance all-season tire because it retains the speed rating their car requires and gives them all-season tread life and traction,” says Feliz. The dealership considers a V-rated tire to be high performance and W and Y speed ratings to be ultra-high performance.
Redwood General Tire’s customers are asking for tires that are more practical as far as tread life, noise level, and especially comfort.
Says Feliz: “The car company got their sale on the car and they’re not going to take it back, so now it’s the tire manufacturers’ job to try to fill the void.”
What’s next for the UHP segment?
To find out what manufacturers are doing to “fill the void” for dealerships like Redwood General Tire, MTD asked them to explain what’s next in terms of technology and applications for UHP tires.
The answers show tire makers are concentrating on delivering high performance, low noise, long tread life, and driving comfort in UHP tires. For dealers, it means more ways to better match UHP products to their customers’ actual driving needs.
Steven Liu, American Tire Distributors: From a technological standpoint, 3D siping is definitely becoming the new norm, though everyone has their own proprietary technology and it’s being termed differently.
Across the board, however, the objective is to provide better traction, grip, stopping distance, etc., the things that are inherent to being ultra-high performance.
Compounding has also evolved. Traditionally, UHP tires were predominantly manufactured with a summer compound with shorter tread life. Now, the market is demanding greater versatility, so there is a shift to all-season compounding. This shift is one of the key reasons that we introduced the Hercules Raptis R-T5.
The term UHP is being used more loosely to create broader appeal. We’re obviously seeing more crossover from passenger sedans to CUV/SUV with both UHP and touring designs. This is also promoted by the OEs shifting toward higher speed ratings and people asking for higher performance.
For the future, I believe there will be even more emphasis on noise control and comfort when it comes to all-season UHP tires.
Brad Robison, Bridgestone: Bridgestone’s focus with the UHP tire segment is to offer tires that allow enthusiasts to get the most out of their vehicles.
In that spirit, we continue to push the limits on ultimate grip and superior handling while working to minimize some of the performance trade-offs enthusiasts have historically experienced with a performance tire, such as limited wear.
Bob Liu, Continental: Performance vehicles continue to push the envelope of technology providing more power, handling, and fuel efficiency. UHP tires must evolve with performance vehicles. We continuously work on technology in every part of the tire — tread compound, construction, contours, pattern, and manufacturing processes — to ensure we have the best tire for the consumer.
Scott Jamieson, Cooper: The Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 was made available to consumers on Aug. 1, 2016. It is our latest and greatest tire in terms of technology.
The Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 ushers in a new era for Cooper in terms of delivering breakthrough product that among other critical benefits, offers incredible grip, holding the road at up to 1g in tight corners with its wide, flat tread arc that creates a stable, square footprint on the road.
The primary objective in developing the Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 was to design an all-season tire for the UHP segment which could demonstrate incredible grip by holding 1g on the skid pad. This is an impressive challenge for an all-season UHP product that must perform in varied and changing weather conditions: heat, rain, and even light snow.
The new Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 has 37 popular fitments that range from American muscle to German and import car enthusiasts.
David Shelton, Giti: The trends are higher expectations for grip rates, durability, comfort, and noise without losing the control and security consumers demand, at a price point acceptable to the consumer.
So part of that “technology” is in materials, and part in design and engineering. GT Radial uses a combination of design, engineering, and materials innovation to provide the quality and performance consumers have come to expect, or rather demand, at a price point they can live with, for a true value that goes way beyond the initial purchase.
In terms of applications, more and more CUV, touring, and premium touring cars are being fitted OE with UHP tires, and most of this growth is in the UHP all-season category.
OEMs are installing higher rim diameters and lower profile tires on almost every segment of the vehicle product lines, especially in the growing market segments.
Looking at the new CUV offerings to the consumer, the 17-inch rim now appears boring. The higher rim diameters are more appealing and expected by the consumer. In CUVs, the 21-inch is the new rage. The speed ratings are also moving up as the image of power and performance is becoming a greater norm, and as the more bland vehicles sit in the showroom for a longer time. Even the pickups — four-door family cruisers with multi-use potential — are being equipped with larger diameter rims and tires with higher speed ratings than in the past.
So the trend is definitely moving up from standard to high performance, and from high performance to ultra-high performance. For instance, tires that were W-rated have moved to Y-rated tires in an OE configuration.
In the U.S., highway tires are predominantly all-season products. Consumers are adapting and growing very comfortable with the control factors of the vehicle as the tire performance increases. Drivers have come to expect more from their higher speed-rated tires, yet are still demanding comfort and a quiet ride.
The GT Radial Champiro UHP AS fits a wide range of vehicles and is a good example of today’s UHP all-season tire. It provides good handling and dependable wet and dry traction all combined with a surprisingly comfortable and quiet ride.
Tire dealers also need in their inventory a UHP tire in the summer category that can still handle itself in the wet. From cars to sports coupes and sedans, and even in the CUV/SUV range of vehicles, there is a good niche for a tire like the GT Radial Champiro HPY.
For the most performance-minded enthusiasts and cars that spend time on the street and track, there are the extreme summer tire grip performers such as the GT Radial Champiro SX2.
Mike Pulte, Goodyear: The ultra-high performance segment used to be comprised of 100% “three season” tires. Goodyear changed all that in 1986 when we introduced the first all-season high performance tire with the Eagle GT+4.
Since then we have seen a dramatic shift in the market. Today the majority of tires in this segment are all-season tires. That change is pushing the industry to deliver the right balance of wet, dry and snow performance while maintaining the levels of handling and steering response you expect from a high performance tire. This change in technology enables these tires to be fitted onto performance luxury sedans and resulted in increasing the performance envelope of the vehicles.
Young Gi Lee, Hankook: We believe that the next step in the development of UHP tires will be focused on further improving tread endurance and grip.
As cars continue to be built and developed at a higher quality, we will need to develop tires that match the vehicle’s demand for endurance and speed. For example, when looking at the future of cars, such as electric vehicles, there is going to be a continued demand for better grip as these new vehicles have particularly fast initiation and acceleration speeds.
While the short-term focus of UHP tires will be around both endurance and grip, over the next several years we’ll be closely following advancements in car technology to align future tire development with performance.
Kellie Szczerbacki, Kenda: What’s new? The key words are broader, faster, longer. There will be more sizes, higher speed ratings, and better compounding, as well as asymmetric designs for longer wear.
Jim Mayfield, Kumho: The UHP tire should start to see some more growth in the OE market as more manufacturers move toward high speed rates and shorter sidewalls for performance and cosmetic features for the new vehicles coming out.
Also, lower rolling resistance and noise reduction should start to be more of a consideration when developing UHPs along with increased performance characteristics in snow traction to cover a broader range in the U.S. market. This would fall along the trend where the ultra touring and ultra performance segments are so close in characteristics that they are almost merging into one.
Kevin Reim, Michelin (BF- Goodrich brand): There are two distinct seasonal classifications of tires in the ultra-high performance category: pure summer UHP tires for warmer climates and all-season UHP tires that offer some limited winter capability. When you go beyond UHP for the ultimate in dry handling performance, you are looking at track-capable DOT legal tires, like our BFGoodrich g-force Rival S and g-force R1-S. We are seeing that the pure summer performance tire market has significant volume but is rather flat at the moment. The all-season performance tire market, however, is a growing segment.
It used to be that in order for ultra-high performance all-season tires to achieve some winter capability, they would give up some dry and wet grip. But recently, with advances in tread compounds with silica, improved tread design, and construction, they are able to deliver significantly better wet and dry traction much closer to a summer performance tire. Additionally, they are able to provide longer wear with a more comfortable ride.
Consumers are seeing more value in an all-season performance tire than ever before. And it’s consumers who are pushing the development.
The evolution of all-season performance tires is similar to smartphone technology in some ways. It used to be that you could just make phone calls. Today people walk around with smartphones which do so many different things beyond just calling someone to the point that people are using their smartphone cameras rather than using a standalone camera in many cases. It gets the job done. However, there are still high-quality cameras out there for those who demand even greater photographic performance.
It’s similar to performance tires. An all-season performance tire does its job at the level that satisfies most enthusiasts in most conditions. Yet there are still summer performance tires for those who seek the ultimate in dry and wet grip and warm weather handling.
Sabrina Clement, Michelin: Noise abatement is getting more attention in the UHP category, especially for luxury and electric vehicles. Michelin’s new Acoustic Technology is helping reduce cavity noise.
Steve Bourassa, Nokian: Every year, more and more vehicles are coming equipped from the manufacturer with ultra-high performance tires.
As with all tires, the goal is to find a balance between dry traction performance and wet traction safety, while also making sure we meet consumer expectations regarding tread wear, durability, and comfort. I think we’ll continue to see increases in performance while also making gains in safety and durability.
Jon Vance, TBC Brands: Extended tread life and enhanced all-season capabilities are being engineered into the majority of UHP tires now. I think this technological trend will continue into areas such as cold weather performance and wear and durability characteristics that take into account the tremendous torque and high-speed capabilities of today’s high performance vehicles.
There is also the desire for better ride quality from UHP tires without sacrificing the sidewall stiffness needed for performance cornering and handling maneuvers. Continued improvements in noise reduction technology will also be a part of the future for UHP tires.
Drew Dayton, Toyo: UHP tires, whether summer or all-season, are at the forefront of balancing different areas of performance. Traditionally, a UHP summer tire will have maximum wet and dry traction levels with less tread life than standard touring tires. Wet and dry traction levels are constantly being improved to complement increasing vehicle performance.
Another key performance trade-off which is taken into consideration is lower rolling resistance for sporty, fuel-efficient vehicles.
New technologies, like Toyo’s Nano Balance technology, are allowing wet and dry traction levels to be increased without sacrificing as much performance in other areas. The next generation of UHP tires will have higher wet and dry traction with less of a trade-off in tread life and rolling resistance performance.
Greg Hathcock, Vogue: UHP used to be a limited segment of the market; it now almost covers the entire market.
Applications I would say generally are going to continue to broaden because the market is moving almost completely to UHP. You’re getting mainstream cars that come with V-rated tires or higher.
Views from the UHP tire experts
Fifteen participants in the ultra-high performance tire manufacturing and marketing segment shared their perspectives on new technologies and applications in this year’s UHP tire story. The experts, their companies, and their flagship UHP lines are listed below.
Steven Liu, director of consumer products, proprietary brands, American Tire Distributors Inc. (Hercules)
Brad Robison, product manager, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC (Potenza)
Bob Liu, product manager, performance tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC (ExtremeContact)
Scott Jamieson, director of product management for North America, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. (Zeon)
David Shelton, director of marketing, Giti Tire (USA) Ltd. (Champiro)
Mike Pulte, general manager, product marketing and innovation, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (Eagle)
Young Gi Lee, product manager, Hankook Tire Co. Ltd. (Ventus)
Kellie Szczerbacki, assistant marketing manager, American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. (Kenda KR)
Jim Mayfield, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Kumho Tire Co. Inc. (Ecsta)
Kevin Reim, senior product concept designer, Michelin North America Inc. (BFGoodrich)
Sabrina Clement, ultra-high performance category manager, Michelin North America Inc. (Pilot)
Steve Bourassa, director of products, Nokian Tyres plc (zLine)
Jon Vance, vice president, product marketing for TBC Corp.’s TBC Brands (Sumitomo)
Drew Dayton, product manager, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. (Proxes);
Greg Hathcock, president, Vogue Tyre & Rubber Co. (Custom Built Radial VIII)
The future of UHP tire development at a glance
Kevin Reim, BFGoodrich: better wet and dry traction.
Brad Robison, Bridgestone: push the limits on grip and handling.
Scott Jamieson, Cooper: performance in varied and changing weather conditions.
David Shelton, GITI: 21-inch sizes for CUVs.
Mike Pulte, Goodyear: increasing the performance envelope of luxury sedans.
Young Gi Lee, Hankook: improving tread endurance and grip.
Steven Liu, ATD: more emphasis on noise control and comfort.
Kellie Szczerbacki, Kenda: asymmetric design for longer wear.
Jim Mayfield, Kumho: increased performance characteristics in snow traction.
Sabrina Clement, Michelin: noise abatement, especially for luxury and electric vehicles.
Steve Bourassa, Nokian: gains in wet traction safety and durability.
Jon Vance, TBC Brands: better ride quality without sacrificing sidewall stiffness.
Drew Dayton, Toyo: higher wet and dry traction with less of a trade-off in tread life and rolling resistance performance.
Greg Hathcock, Vogue: applications continue to broaden because the market is moving almost completely to UHP.