Has the hot sport utility vehicle market begun to cool down? You might think so, given the bad publicity surrounding the Firestone recall.
Complaints, injuries and deaths implicating the recalled tires and Ford Explorers may be influencing SUV sales at Ford Motor Co., which already has slowed down SUV production on two occasions since the voluntary recall began August 9. Falling values for leased SUVs doesn't appear to bode well for 2001, either.
But based on the new tires introduced and showcased at the International Tire Expo during Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week in Las Vegas, Nev., the SUV segment is alive and well. Michelin North America Inc. estimates that by 2002, there will be more than 3.6 million SUVs on the road, almost 1 million more than today.
SUV tires and prototypes were displayed in 22- and 23-inch sizes. How much larger can SUV wheel diameters get? Richard Smallwood, director of sales and marketing for Falken Tire Corp., says as far as the light truck and SUV segments are concerned, he realistically can see 24 inches, "and maybe 25-inch, though (that's) not very likely. The increased weight of the tire and wheel package, and the reduction of sidewall on a vehicle with greater body roll, really will create some engineering challenges."
The tuner segment also is hot. Chris Horn, vice president, consumer affairs for the Specialty Equipment Market Association, says the compact-performance car, or tuner, market has grown 156% in the last two years.
The new tires showcased on the trade show floor included the following:
Cooper Discoverer M+S SUV tire. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. unveiled several new products. The Discoverer M+S SUV line is designed for ice and snow traction and will be available early next year in a full range of sizes, according to John Pecoraro, Cooper's manager of product marketing. Two sizes are currently being sold in Europe, he says.
Cooper is adding two new 19.5-inch sizes to its CXMT 320 tire -- in Load Range G and F -- for pick-up and delivery applications. The company's new 70,000-mile tire, the Lifeliner Touring SLE, will be available in T-, H- and V-rated sizes at the end of the first quarter next year. The Findlay, Ohio-based manufacturer also is adding new sizes to Discoverer AST line.
Delta Chaparral S.U.V. HP tire. Del-Nat Tire Corp.'s new Chaparral S.U.V. HP is designed for upscale SUV applications, according to President Bob Gardner. "We're going to be the first private brander with this type of product."
Denman Premium Skid Trax. Denman Tire Corp. introduced a severe service skid steer tire that targets vehicles at above-ground mines and rock quarries. The tubeless, nylon tire is manufactured at the company's Leavittsburg, Ohio, plant and features a heavy-duty sidewall with Rim Guard. It is available in sizes 10-16.5 10-ply; a 12-16.5 12-ply is under development.
Kenda passenger tires. Kenda USA debuted two new passenger tires: the H-rated, 70-series Kruiser and the H-rated, 60-series Komet. Both will be available this summer, the Kruiser in seven sizes and the Komet in one size. Kenda also introduced a new SUV tire available next June in sizes 235/75R15 and 235/95R16, according to Sales Manager Hank Chang.
Maxxis HT-750 SUV tire. Cheng Shin Rubber USA Inc.'s Maxxis HT-750 has an all-position tread pattern for light trucks and SUVs. It has an "advanced rubber compound," full nylon cap and extra-heavy construction, according to Maxxis Marketing Manager Michael McGunagle. The HT-750, part of the Bravo Truck series, is available in 14 sizes with outline white or black serrated letters.
A performance SUV tire in size P255/70R16, the Marauder MA-S1, is tentatively scheduled for release next year. The Maxxis Mudzilla, an outline white letter ATV tire, has added three sizes.
Michelin Cross Terrain SUV tire. Designed specifically for SUVs, the Cross Terrain will be available in 26 sizes. "SUV drivers want a rugged, off-road look with the comfort and performance of passenger car tires," says Alison Heiser, Michelin brand manager. It's OE on the redesigned 2002 Ford Explorer, the 2001 Acura MDX, the 2001 Chevy Suburban, the 2001 Yukon Denali and the 2002 Chevy TrailBlazer. Construction features include large cables in the steel belts, full-depth interlocking sipes, two carcass plies and a square, stable contact patch design.
Pirelli Scorpion Zero. Pirelli Tire North America's Scorpion Zero SUV tire is available in a 22-inch size, 295/30VR22. "We should have a 23-inch by June of 2001," says John Clancy, manager motorsports, product and ultra-high performance business. "That would be geared to the SUV market as well." The Scorpion Zero has zigzag longitudinal grooving and individual split shoulder blocks. Two sizes also have been added to the P Zero Rosso line, 265/30ZR22 and 295/25ZR22.
Tireco high performance golf cart tire. Tireco Inc., formerly Nankang, introduced its new N-310 high performance golf car tire. It has a directional-style tread pattern and is available in tubeless size 205/50-10 4PR. The serrated sidewall design features outlined black letters.
Tireco has added a 17-inch size, 235/45R17, to its Sport NS-1 line. A new 18-inch size is in the works. "We're requesting it be H-rated," says Dave Jones, senior vice president of sales.
Toyo Open Country A/T. The new light truck tire "fills a void we had in the all-terrain category," says Doug Alberty, Toyo national sales manager. Toyo also has added a 23-inch tire to its Proxes S/T line that targets SUVs.
Yokohama Geolander I/T. Yokohama Tire Corp.'s Geolander I/T is a light truck and SUV tire designed for ice traction. The studless snow tire has a directional tread design, which, according to Yokohama, acts like a pump on wet roads. It has a "stepped-down" shoulder, zigzag interior grooves alongside the center rib, and wave-shaped sipes. The Micro-Pore rubber compound includes nylon fibers.
Yokohama's Parada, designed for the street tuner market, will be available in the second quarter. It has massive diagonal tread blocks, low void shoulders, helical long grooves and one solitary circumferential groove. "Street tuners are very image conscious," says Dan King, director of marketing, consumer products at Yokohama. "But looks without performance don’t mean anything. Street tuners want both." It also features a Rim Protector Bar and will be available in 16- to 18-inch, Z-rated sizes.
Yokohama's AVS dB (for decibel) ultra-high performance tire will add sizes during the first quarter.
BFGoodrich Scorcher T/A "Comet" prototype. Comet will be available to consumers in early 2001. It features hundreds of multi-colored speckles throughout its tread; initial color offerings have not been determined. "We believe color is here to stay," says Mathew Aaron, brand manager for BFGoodrich Tires, a division of Michelin.
Kumho racing tires. Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.'s new R700 is designed for SCCA competition. The Tire Rack will distribute it nationwide next year. "It's going to be attractively priced," says Rudy Consolacion, product engineer for performance tires and Kumho's motorsports director. "It will be inexpensive compared to other rally tires out there."
Kumho also displayed the Ecsta V700, a next generation auto cross and road racing tire due out next spring in 19 sizes. It will complement the Victoracer. The Ecsta V700's mold shape and wider footprint differs from the Victoracer's design. Kumho will bring the Ecsta S700 Slick, currently available in Europe, into the United States as well.