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The evolution of performance

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The evolution of performance

The first performance tire, circa 3500 B.C, was a 185/75G14. The “G” stood for granite. Since then, it has gone through a seemingly endless number of design changes to make it perform better. Stone became wood. Spokes lightened the load and allowed the Romans to not only drive their chariots faster, but also meet CAFE regulations.

With the addition of rubber, the tire and wheel package was born. Materials like rayon, cotton and fiberglass came and went. Bias-ply tires were replaced by radial tires.

The term “performance” evolved into high performance, then ultra-high performance, then max performance. Extreme performance hasn’t caught on yet, but some people in our industry use it.

UHP tires have been defined by speed ratings for decades. That, too, is evolving, as size proliferation has exploded and their usage has become more common on non-performance vehicles.

We asked the top UHP tire manufacturers where the UHP tire market, especially the definition of the tires themselves, stands today. Their answers vary, but not by much.

PH: How has the definition of UHP tires evolved over the last 10 years?

Chris Brackin, American Omni Trading Co.: When UHP first came out, it was all about the look around the wheel, but that has changed over the years with more of the OE fitments coming out in the larger sizes. Today, we break UHP into a couple of categories depending upon the dealer.  Certain customers buy UHP as sort of a rubber band to put around a wheel to still make that fashion statement.  They obviously spend more money on the wheels than they do the tires. The second would be a performance tire for a modern high-end vehicle application, which you see more car companies developing these days.

Your average dealers these days look at 17 inches and above in V-, W- and Z-rated (sizes) as UHP, and anything else in an H-rated product as “performance.”

Emil Herbak, Apollo Vredestein Tires Inc.: The definition remains the same, but due to the steady growth over the years in this segment, the definition became too general. Internally, “UHP” defines tires with speed index Y or (Y) and inch sizes 17 inches and up.

Michael Mathis, Atturo Tire Corp.: From the perspective of Atturo’s market segment of SUV and crossover vehicles, the prevalence of lower profile, large rim diameter and higher speed rated tires is continuing to grow. Ten years ago, this segment was a purely aesthetic application, and largely still is today.

However, that is evolving with the growth in high horsepower SUV and CUV vehicles that can handle like the performance sedans of the last decade. These vehicles require a tire capable of translating their power, braking and suspension ability into road performance.

Scott Jamieson, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: UHP tires still have the highest speed rating in the market — 168 mph W-rated and 186 mph Y-rated. There are still two major categories of UHP tires: those that are rated M+S and those that are not. However, what has changed is how the product performs in wet and even winter conditions. Consumers are still expecting ultimate dry grip, but now they are seeking a more versatile product.

The tread pattern design has also changed over the course of 10 years. There once was a large population of directional tire designs in the market. Today, asymmetrical tread designs are more mainstream and have replaced the directional tire design. Directional tires still have unique performance attributes, but the trend has shifted to asymmetrical tread designs, which offer a blend of dry, wet and winter performance.

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Robert Saul, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: UHP tires are characterized by higher speed ratings — at least V — with a focus on responsive handling. In the last decade, the speed ratings have definitely climbed higher, as most UHP tires today carry a W speed rating or higher. We’ve also seen the category evolve in this last decade to include more tires that deliver all-season traction along with the responsive handling and high-speed capabilities.

Bob Liu, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: The main change is the speed ratings that are included in UHP tires. Officially, the RMA defines UHP tires as V and higher speed-rated tires whose primary design emphasis is speed, response and handling.

However, the majority of fitments today in V speed rating are focused more toward touring than speed, response and handling. A good example is the Toyota Sienna, a minivan that comes original equipment with V-speed-rated tires. Most people would agree that minivans are more focused on touring. In reality today, UHP tires include W and higher speed rated tires.

David Shelton, GITI Tire (USA) Ltd.: UHP used to be strictly considered as Z-rated. The Z-rated tires were positioned as the top cornering and grip performers, especially for the summer variant. Today, the UHP category can easily be divided into two camps, with smaller slivers or niches in the UHP summer group. The UHP all-season has become the greater volume of the two.

Mike Markoff, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: UHP tires are more refined than those of 10 years ago. Rather than simply affording the vehicle the ability to turn horsepower into traction, UHP tires today also have to consider other qualities — low noise, rolling resistance, all-season capability, etc.

All indications are that the growth of the UHP tire segment is continuing. In recent years, this segment has been the biggest area of growth in the tire business, partly due to a general enjoyment of driving performance and automotive styling, but also attributed to OE fitment trends.

Steven Liu, Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.: Just as with touring tires, UHP tires have seen some of those blurred lines over the past few years. While classic, summer driving UHP tires still have wide appeal, we see more and more all-season, year-round UHPs that are M+S rated. This goes back to value — consumers want more benefits packed into one tire.

John Mosby, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.: We have seen UHP tires get much wider and aspect ratios decrease. In addition, we have seen an increase in the amount of staggered fitments on high performance cars. We’re seeing W and Y as a standard for UHP OE fitments. In terms of performance, we are seeing very high levels of dry grip while retaining wet traction. In the replacement market, we see UHP tires with much higher mileage than 10 years ago.

Scott Slemmons, Maxxis International: Ten years ago, UHP tires were mostly limited to sports cars or sport coupe applications. Today, it is common for UHP tires to be OE on the standard “family sedan.” There are now several “sub-UHP” classifications, such as standard, maximum and extreme UHP.

Jim Knowles, Michelin North America Inc.: I’m not sure the definition of UHP tires has changed much. They are still generally summer tires, but we are seeing applications of UHP tires extend beyond sports cars. Today, UHP tires can be found on many high-performance sedans.

Kyle Roberts, Nexen Tire America Inc.: UHP used to be defined as tires that were 16 inches and higher as well as 60 series and lower. However, this has changed over the past 10 years. The new standard for UHP tires is 18 inches and higher and 50 series and lower.

Stephen Ewing, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.: Over the last 10 years, the definition of UHP tires has been pushed upwards in speed rating. V-rated tires are no longer considered UHP by the industry while they were in the past.

Maxwell Wee, Sentury Tire Americas: Rim diameters are getting bigger, tires are getting wider and speed ratings have changed with the introduction of W- and Y-rated tires. Customers continue to demand the UHP tire to perform better and last longer. The industry response is introducing tires with new compounding technology.

Robert Abram, product planning manager, Yokohama Tire Corp.: The big change is what V-rated tires mean to the segment. Most now consider V as high performance rather than UHP, as W and Y variants have become commonplace. It wasn’t that long ago that many sporty and high performance vehicles were fitted with V-rated tires. Roadsters like the BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLK used V-rated tires up until about 2007-’08.

Mazda Miata’s are still fitted with V-rated tires. The change has been coming steadily since the mid-’90s, though. On top of that is the extreme performance sub-category of UHP.... More manufacturers are entering the market in this specialized segment.

PH:  What will be the next step in the evolution of UHP tires?

Herbak, Apollo Vredestein: UHP has invaded all tire segments: SUV, snow and all-weather tires. A segmentation or redefinition of “UHP” is required to keep the term relevant.

Mathis, Atturo: We believe the global vehicle market will continue to see the largest growth in the small SUV and CUV segments. As the tuners work on these vehicles and manufacturers release high performance models, the growth in demand for affordable tires truly capable of performing on these applications will grow. That means more 19-inch, 20-inch and 21-inch sizes of moderate width and staggered applications.

Without giving away too much of our own planning, just watch what comes in the 4x4 market!

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Saul, Bridgestone: There are interesting developments in this category, most notably, future UHP tire designs will incorporate several features that improve environmental friendliness. Future UHP tires will be lighter and the use of sustainable materials will continue to rise.

Liu, Continental: Vehicle manufacturers are fitting UHP tires on more mainstream vehicles than in the past. The consumers for these vehicles were mainly accustomed to touring tires, which focused on long tread life.

These consumers are typically not satisfied with the traditionally shorter tread life of UHP tires. UHP tires are evolving by placing more focus on longer tread life to better meet the consumer needs.

Jamieson, Cooper: We see that the next step in UHP tires is the advancement of wet performance in both M+S and non-M+S rated tires. Compound technology is evolving to the point that allows for superior wet grip and handling.

Shelton, GITI: There will always be an effort to push the envelope for maximum grip in the tire’s ability to go, stop, and turn for the summer UHP group, along with the ability to last longer than dedicated track tires. Some consumers will want the “ultimate” to last only a weekend or two, while others want a street tire that is very close to the track tire but will last a couple of years.

In the all-season version of the UHP tire, there appears to be a blending of the UHP all-season and the grand touring lines as the consumer expectations are converging on wanting the control and confidence while demanding ride comfort, low noise and getting the value out of the tires by expecting three years average life — 45,000 miles or more.

Mosby, Kumho: I think you will see UHP tires that retain current levels of dry performance and handling, while also providing increased levels of wet performance, ride comfort and mileage.

Slemmons, Maxxis: As hybrid and electric vehicles evolve, there will be a demand for better performance from these vehicles, so some of them will have UHP tires on them. Also, it is likely we will start to see more UHP fitments and Plus One, Two, Three and Four fitments for crossover vehicles.

Knowles, Michelin: New Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) regulations will limit the rolling resistance levels of UHP tires. Meeting these regulations will require tire manufacturers to employ higher levels of technology to deliver the performances that customers demand, while meeting regulatory requirements.

Ewing, Pirelli: In the future, OEMs seeking UHP fitments will look to tire manufacturers to make tires that have all the current performance attributes while also being significantly lower in rolling resistance. Despite increasing CAFE standards, we also don’t see the tall, skinny tire trend moving into the UHP market in the near future.

Wee, Sentury Tire: The next improvement for UHP tires will be in the area of year-round utilization and improved fuel economy.

Abram, Yokohama: As fuel economy continues to be an automaker as well as a consumer priority, tire makers will be asked to achieve a high level of grip while trying to reduce rolling resistance, as has happened recently in other segments. Tread wear is always important to consumers, so that will continue to fall under scrutiny, but the risk with making a long-lasting UHP tire is the perception that ultimate grip will be lost, thereby alienating the enthusiast audience for which the tire is intended.

PH:  What are OEMs demanding from UHP tire manufacturers?

Rick Brennan, Falken Tire Corp.: What we’re seeing is a bit more evolution of all-season because as you look at cars that are really purchased by people who use them every day, they’re looking for things like everyday use, but want to “play” with (them) as well. We’re seeing things crop up like more all-season in higher rim diameter and lower aspect ratio, like 20-inch. We’re also seeing the constant movement to better rolling resistance and better fuel economy; that’s also being demanded for all vehicles now, not just the small commuter vehicles.

We’re seeing all of these things being demanded from the car makers. We also see the new stuff coming out now like Bridgestone’s concept of narrower tires, larger overall diameter. It definitely gives some advantages, but you lose some in other cases.... The American consumer still wants that look of low aspect ratio, larger rim diameter, so we’ll see how it works.

Herbak, Apollo Vredestein: The strong general trend is toward green tire label values — reduced/low rolling resistance.

Mathis, Atturo: OEMs look for what I call a “traitor” tire. They want to call it a UHP tire, make it look like one and charge for it as if it is a true UHP. But these are all-season touring tires. Few OEMs put a true UHP tire on their SUV/CUV vehicles. This is an easy upgrade for the discerning driver who wants an immediate improvement in their vehicle’s performance.

Saul, Bridgestone: OEMs continue to focus on steering response, cornering and braking performance from tires in this category. In addition, there is an increasing OEM focus on lower rolling resistance and lower pass-by noise due to government regulations.

Liu, Continental: Requirements for traction and handling performance from UHP tires continuously increase with each new model of a vehicle. There is also a growing trend for lower rolling resistance to help the vehicle manufacturers meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements.

Shelton, GITI: Everything, including advancements in styling, performance grip and handling, rolling resistance, uniformity, durability, tread wear life and low weight, are desired.

Markoff, Goodyear: Regarding UHP, OEMs are requiring nearly all aspects of tire performance in one tire. If it is a UHP all-season tire, it is expected to perform similar to a summer tire in wet conditions, yet still provide adequate comfort and low rolling resistance.

Slemmons, Maxxis: They want a tire that offers good performance, very quiet and smooth riding that can provide 40,000 to 50,000 trouble-free miles.

Knowles, Michelin: Michelin’s partners that have UHP fitments on their vehicles are looking for high levels of handling and traction on both wet and dry. Equally important is improved rolling resistance that meets ECE regulations and acceptable wear life for consumers.

Ewing, Pirelli: OEMs are currently looking for UHP tires that can deliver excellent performance with the lowest possible rolling resistance.

Wee, Sentury Tire: They are looking for a smoother ride, shorter stopping distance, improved fuel economy and year-round utilization.   ■

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We asked the questions: And these tire industry experts answered the call

• Chris Brackin, vice president of sales, American Omni Trading Co.

• Emil Herbak, general manager, Apollo Vredestein Tires Inc.

• Michael Mathis, co-owner and vice president of international marketing, Atturo Tire Corp.

• Robert Saul, consumer tire product manager, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC.

• Bob Liu, product manager, performance, passenger and light truck tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC.

• Scott Jamieson, director of product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

• Rick Brennan, executive director of product strategy, Falken Tire Corp.

• David Shelton, director of product marketing, GITI Tire (USA) Ltd.

• Mike Markoff, category manager, high performance tires, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

• Steven Liu, director of consumer tire marketing, Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.

• John Mosby, product planning coordinator, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.

• Scott Slemmons, senior sales representative, Maxxis International.

• Jim Knowles, original equipment expert, Michelin North America Inc.

• Kyle Roberts, director of marketing, Nexen Tire America Inc.

• Stephen Ewing, business intelligence manager, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.

• Maxwell Wee, director of sales, Sentury Tire Americas.

• Robert Abram, product planning manager, Yokohama Tire Corp.

Dealer perspective: Tire Rack categorizes the UHP segment

If you want a more tangible way of envisioning how the ultra-high performance tire segment has evolved over the last 10 years, check out www.tirerack.com. Tire Rack Inc. follows up the traditional “UHP Summer” tire category with three others: “Streetable Track & Competition,” “Extreme Performance” and “Max Performance Summer.”

According to Vice President Matt Edmonds, the company has found it necessary to add categories in order to separate today’s tires into comparable groups. “We have also seen development/growth of the ‘Ultra-High Performance All-Season’ category.”

He says the next step in the evolution of UHP tires will be increasing levels of traction and handling. “We are also seeing tires wear longer.”

When asked what the original equipment manufacturers are demanding from UHP tire makers based on the OE tires that are being introduced, Edmonds divided his answer into three segments. Premium summer tires, like those found on the C7 Corvette, Shelby Mustang, SRT Viper and Challenger, are expected to have “near race tire levels of grip and track ability.”

Mid-point all-season tires need “lower rolling resistance and year-round traction, while entry-level tires are at least 15 inches in diameter compared to “yesterday’s typical 13-inch fitments.”

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The Power of Performance Tires: Despite all the Changes in the Market, Tire Dealers Continue to Steer Brand Choice

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