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Will chart-topping snowfalls mean record winter tire sales?

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Will chart-topping snowfalls mean record winter tire sales?

Winter tire shipments fell from 5.3 million units in 2012 to 4.6 million units in 2013, a 13.2% drop, according to Modern Tire Dealer statistics. The decline was sharper the prior year when winter tire shipments fell 14.5% from 2011’s 6.2 million units. But several tire manufacturers and marketers believe this year’s relentless, often record-breaking winter storms will help push winter tire sales upward in the coming season.

Robert Hepp, vice president strategic planning for Nokian Tyres Inc., says the winter tire market in the United States is expected to grow consistently at about 4% a year for the next five years.

“I think you’re going to see that be even bigger the next couple years because of the extensive snow coverage in North America.”

Nokian Tyres is the North American sales and distribution arm of Nokian Tyres PLC, which recently funded two videos about winter tires produced by the Tire Industry Association (TIA). One video presents guidelines for selecting winter tires; the other discusses their safety advantages. The videos were filmed at Nokian’s Ivalo Proving Grounds in northern Finland. Dealers can download the videos to their websites or link to the videos on TIA’s website from their websites.

Be ready to explain how winter tires add safety

Bridgestone also expects the North American market to grow. “We are waiting for 2013 numbers to be compiled. In 2008, winter tire sales peaked,” says Anant Gandhi, product manager U.S. and Canada, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC. He attributes the 2008 spike to legislation mandating winter tire usage on all passenger vehicles in Quebec from Dec. 15 to March 15. The situation was very different just four years later.

“In 2012, the industry saw a dip in demand due to two mild winter seasons. Looking ahead to winter 2014-2015, we expect the market to normalize as a result of the more traditional winter we have experienced this season. The tire industry will continue to educate consumers about the importance of winter tires, and we hope the automotive industry will join in this endeavor.”

Education from tire manufacturers as well as dealers is key, according to Ron Golab, advertising specialist and marketing assistant for Toyo Tire Canada Inc. “Dealers know best what is working in their areas and what is the safest choice for their customers. For years consumers have been led to believe that all-season literally meant good for all seasons. Vehicles have changed so much in past decades and tires have had new demands placed on them to meet these changes. It may be time to designate them as three-season tires unless they can prove to be safe in all seasons.”

Steven Liu, director of consumer tire marketing for Hercules Tire & Rubber Co., says education and more high performance applications are helping drivers to see a need for winter tires during cold months. “Consumers are now more knowledgeable, and understand that winter compounds have better performance properties at colder temperatures than traditional all-season or summer compounds.”

Economic factors as well as mild winters have caused dealers to stock minimal amounts of winter tires, according to David Shelton, director, product marketing for Giti Tire (USA) Ltd. “The market appears to still be down from five years ago. However there is opportunity as the P-metric light truck segment appears to be up with the addition of SUV and CUVs. Newer vehicles are coming with new sizes, which complicate the size offering and selection, but allow opportunities for the dealer. If weather forecasters project the next few years will be similar to, or worse than, this year’s winter season, the market should experience a stable, consistent level of sell-in and sell-out, which has not been the case for the past five years.”

Although consumers are more aware of the safety advantages, they won’t come into a shop asking to buy a set of winter tires, according to Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for TIA. “Dealers are going to have to convince people that winter tires benefit them.”

Julie Manson, brand manager, winter and Canada, for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., says dealers need to be able to explain why winter tires add safety.  “From demonstrating the flexibility of winter tire compounds when temperatures drop, to pointing out the channels in the tread design that help evacuate slush, the dealers who emphasize education before the sale will serve as a critical touch-point for consumers.”

MTD asked manufacturers and marketers about the trends shaping the next selling season and the technologies improving winter tire performance. Read our Q&A for their responses.

[PAGEBREAK]

MTD: What are current trends in the winter tire market?

Joe Maher, Continental: Information about winter tire performance is easy for consumers to research. An estimated 80% of consumers research the tire online before purchase. It’s important to have the right product in stock when the demand occurs since many consumers wait until the snow starts to fall before they arrive at the tire dealer with a “purchase-and-install-today” mentality.

Geoffrey Chang, Federal: As for the U.S. market, drivers pay more attention on safety and economy of winter tires, which have the function of short braking distance and the characteristic of light weight to achieve better fuel efficiency. Due to drastic changes in winter conditions, the concept tire of all-season becomes an idea taken into consideration. Federal also observes that the demand for studless tires is increasing.

David Shelton, Giti: Consumers have been reluctant in the U.S. market to maintain two sets of tires. The industry challenge is that the domestic consumer is less than enthusiastic to make the investment for these specialty products. However, with this winter season we have seen inventories diminish, and more consumers now believe in the need for true winter tires.

Julie Manson, Goodyear: With the current challenging winter season still top-of-mind, consumers seeking dependability and safety will help guide winter tire sales in the 2014-15 season.

Steven Liu, Hercules: We see an increasing number of all-weather tires that offer year-round performance. Consumers, particularly in the U.S., want a product that performs well in all seasons, with added assurance in the winter. All-weather tires are that low-maintenance solution for busy consumers. They’re also a nice alternative for tire dealers to create more inventory space. The shift toward more performance and all-weather oriented construction and design will continue to grow and mature over time. Finally, since many states have outlawed the use of studded winter tires, the industry has increased efforts on the design of studless winter tires. There is also an increased demand on winter tires for the SUV, LT and CUV segments.

Ron Margadonna, Michelin: From a technology view there will be continued development efforts looking for advancements in performance. From an application view and with size and speed rating proliferation, there is more usage of winter tires with a lesser speed rating than specified on the OEM placard. Michelin has a policy to assist dealers with this when installing winter tires.

Robert Hepp, Nokian: Safety is primarily the reason for the growth.

Jaap Leendertse, Pirelli: The primary trend we are seeing is developing a tire that can perform across varied conditions. This versatility is especially important in the North American market, whereas in other regions you see winter tires being developed specifically for handling ice and snow conditions.

Ron Golab, Toyo: A popular trend is moving toward a tire defined as “all-weather.” At Toyo we are reluctant to follow this route unless we can be confident a product could be produced that did a great job in all seasons. Not all areas are ideal for an all-weather tire, especially when there is a significant temperature variation from summer to winter. We have been concentrating on producing the best all-around winter tire in partnership with the best all-season or summer tire. An added deterrent to installing winter tires has been where to store them. Tire dealers are making it easier for their consumers by offering a storage service.

Additional trends include increased discussions within provinces and U.S. states for the need to make winter tires mandatory. In Quebec where a law was passed, significant improvement in safety statistics is being recorded.

Robert Abram, Yokohama: The winter market in many respects is mirroring the other P/LT markets in that winter tires are now trying to be more complete. As with P/LT tires that have been developed to get better mileage, winter traction and ride quality, the best new winter tires are moving towards excelling even more in winter weather driving with less trade-offs when the weather and temperatures aren’t quite as adverse.

MTD: What is the next step in winter tire technology?

Peter Snel, Apollo Vredestein: Today, winter tires are studdable, winter soft , HP and UHP tires for all speed ratings and sizes (including LT winter tires). Increasingly winter tires (including the entire range from Apollo and Vredestein) are marked with the snowflake symbol, ensuring the corresponding winter performance. We see the material technology changing the way we know winter tires. Usage of full silica compounds is becoming common. With a focus on balanced handling performance, companies are laying stress on sophisticated 3D siping designs which provide maximum grip on snow and ice.

Gandhi, Bridgestone: We enhanced our proprietary multi-cell compound by adding a hydrophilic, or water-loving coating, which gives our Blizzak WS80 even more stopping power and grip on ice.

Maher, Continental: Trends include continually improving traction on snow and ice while maintaining comfortable ride and noise characteristics.

Chang, Federal: The next step in winter tire technology is to increase the safety of the tire and to make it lighter and save more energy. How to develop a tire satisfying both needs in summer and winter driving would be a way of thinking of developing new technology.

Shelton, Giti: The product that does everything extremely well is what the consumer wants. Technology hasn’t allowed us to create the one tire that will be all things to all people and all vehicles in all climates. The concept of the all-weather tire is a step closer to dedicated winter tires, as was the all-season tire when it was introduced. Trade-offs exist. If the consumer lives in a climate that reaches the extremes, they need tires designed for those extremes, a three-season tire and a dedicated winter product.

Manson, Goodyear: While winter tires of the past were more likely intended to handle snowy conditions, tire manufacturers will continue to invest in innovations that seek to address more specific winter weather challenges. Icy conditions, slush, dry cold weather and snow create unique driving conditions. To help meet the demands of these weather conditions, product designers must continue to make creative selections in tread design, compound mixes, geometry and tread blading. Confidence in winter driving will remain the primary consideration for winter tire buying consumers. With expectations on the rise across segments, new technologies will seek to balance quiet handling and a smoother ride with traditional winter driving needs. Innovations in tires come with increased demands to help consumers see what’s beneath the tread. Achieving an optimal sipe depth or adding blading inside the grooves may increase surface area traction, but describing these benefits can be complex and confusing. Increasing consumer education during the research and buying phases will continue to be critical.

Liu, Hercules: The new technologies of winter tires will allow for a full range of winter temperatures without compromising other performance attributes like mileage, ride, fuel efficiency and comfort. Advanced engineering in rubber compounds and molding technology help to pave the way for the next generation of winter tires. Manufacturers have continued to refine existing technologies that include extending the traction and ice-breaking capabilities throughout the life of the tire, as well as providing improved performance in non-snow/ice conditions.

Margadonna, Michelin: Our main thrust is to advance white road performance without compromises in other areas. We continue to explore new materials and methods to achieve this.

[PAGEBREAK]

Hepp, Nokian: Recent stud legislation in Sweden, Norway and Finland leads in to the changes happening in technology. Winter tires are mandatory in the Nordic countries and over 80% of all the tires are studded. They passed a new law further reducing the maximum number of studs allowed in a tire beginning with tires built in 2013. What most manufacturers have done is just limit the number of stud positions in their tires. But the law says you can use studs if you can prove they will cause less road wear. Nokian went that route. They’ve been able to increase the number of studs. Nokian is going to introduce the Hakkapeliitta 8 this year in North America. It was introduced last year in Europe. The Hakkapeliitta 8 has 50% more studs than the Hakkapeliitta 7. It’s lighter weight. All of the indications and tests I’ve seen show they create about 10% less wear than even the lower number of studs being used by other companies.

In the past if you wanted maximum traction on ice, everyone would say use studs. Even the best studless tire would not equal the worst studded tire. But that has changed because of advances in technology and compounding. Testworld, an independent testing company, just tested braking on ice between 128 studded and studless tires. The top 10 tires were all studded. The Hakkapeliitta 8 was number 1. The number 11 tire was the new studless Hakkapeliitta R2. There were 30 brands of studded tires that did not work as well on ice as the studless. And that’s a complete change.

Leendertse, Pirelli: Right now, winter tire technology aims to produce the same, consistent performance for the large range of temperatures (i.e. -5 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees F) that a tire is exposed to. To enhance grip in lower temperatures, which is caused by deformation of the rubber, the tire needs to have a soft compound in conjunction with a stiff tread, through the belt and other properties. 3D sipes are therefore an important technological element right now for winter tires, as they increase the footprint of a tire for a shorter braking distance, through keeping the edges alive. For example, the 3D sipes featured on Pirelli’s Sottozero 3 tires have a 25% bigger footprint on the block compared to before and an extra edge in the profile. This exerts micro pressure at the edge, allowing the tire to deform and provide greater grip in the normal way, ensuring the tires have the same optimal performance in wet, snow or icy conditions.

Golab, Toyo: Within the compounds we are striving to look for natural renewable resources that improve traction, tire life and durability. For years we have used crushed black walnut shells which act like tiny steel spikes in our studless winter tire compounds. Carbonic powder from bamboo works to help absorb moisture to allow the tread design to maximize traction. Huge strides in compound consistency and polymers ensure better traction throughout the life of the tire along with a better rolling tire. Our goal is to produce as much of the tire from sustainable products as possible. Other major advancements are coming in studded tires. In areas with severe winter conditions, studs should be considered however, when roads are bare their performance is suspect, they are noisier and damage the roads. Driven by demands in the European markets, better stud scratch patterns and a reduced amount of studs are the next evolution.

Abram, Yokohama: As ice-covered roads present the most dangerous driving conditions, Yokohama continues to pursue and push technologies that improve ice traction.

MTD: What is your latest winter tire product?

Emil Herbak, Apollo Vredestein: Wintrac xtreme S is the latest product in our lineup and we are targeting the coming fall for availability of these high performance tires. The predecessor, Wintrac Xtreme, is still available for the season 2014/2015. This product with an internal sipe locking technology was introduced in Turin, Italy, in the second half of 2013. Top-end sizes carry a Y speed rating, allowing a speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). In volume sizes like 205/55R16 we offer our multiple test winner, Snowtrac 3.

Gandhi, Bridgestone: The Blizzak WS80 stops shorter, handles better and grips the road more than our best-selling WS70 tire, which the WS80 replaces (see page 50 of this issue for details on the new tire).

Maher, Continental: Continental Tire’s ExtremeWinterContact, which launched in 2009, is very competitive, even against the newest tires in the market. In a recent test by a leading online retailer, the ExtremeWinterContact provided the shortest stopping distance on smooth ice, which is an important attribute for winter driving. General Tire’s Altimax Arctic offers a wide range of sizes for excellent snow and ice traction with the additional option for studs. A leading online retailer’s testing has the Altimax Arctic first overall among other studdable winter tires tested.

Chang, Federal: We are working on developing a new generation of winter tire according to the aforementioned trends.

Shelton, Giti: GT Radial Champiro WinterPro HP was introduced at the beginning of this past winter season. The WinterPro HP was developed to meet the needs of drivers who wished to retain the performance and handling precision of their vehicles during the winter season and wintry conditions.

Manson, Goodyear: The Goodyear Ultra Grip 8 Performance, introduced in 2013, is Goodyear’s best handling ultra-high performance tire for powerful winter traction and handling in freezing rain, snow, slush and ice. With premium vehicle fitments, including Audi, Lexus and Mercedes, the Ultra Grip 8 Performance is a strong choice for performance drivers.

Liu, Hercules: You’ll see a new winter tire from Hercules in the next few months  that is on-trend, comes in a wide range of fitments and offers the value you’d expect from Hercules.

Margadonna, Michelin: Our main Michelin winter tire product is the X-Ice tire line. It comes in two offers: X-Ice Xi3 for passenger cars and minivans and Latitude X-Ice Xi2 for SUV, CUV and light trucks. Our total size offering approached 100 for the vast majority of vehicles in North America. Additional winter tires in the Michelin family of brands are the BFG Winter Slalom KSI for passenger and LT vehicles and Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow II, which has stud capability, for primarily passenger car vehicles.

Kyle Roberts, Nexen Tire America: Nexen’s latest winter tire is the Winguard Winspike. It was introduced in November 2013 and is available in 25 P-metric sizes and 29 SUV sizes, of which seven are LT.

Hepp, Nokian: The Hakkapeliitta 8 will be introduced for passenger and SUV in the U.S. in the coming 2014 winter season. In 2013, Nokian introduced a new studless winter tire, the Hakkapeliitta R2.

Leendertse, Pirelli: The Sottozero 3 is Pirelli’s latest winter tire product incorporating the newest technology, introduced in March 2013. It is an ultra-high performance tire designed to enhance the sporting characteristics of the cars to which it is fitted. The new Winter Sottozero benefits from 3D grooves to capture more snow and therefore improve snow-on-snow grip. The contact patch of the tire has also been enlarged, increasing grip in all types of winter conditions. An innovative compound increases tire performance and road holding even on wet or icy surfaces. The profile has been optimized to guarantee a longer tire life thanks to a uniform footprint. The shoulder is more rounded to expel more water. The deep grooves on the surface also help to improve the dispersal of water. The Winter Sottozero 3 is available all over the world for wheels from 16 to 21 inches in 11 different run-flat sizes.

Golab, Toyo: Toyo has plans for several new winter tires to complement our existing lineup which will be introduced in the coming months. Our focus will be to offer better choices based on the needs of the area and the job the tire needs to do. Our current lineup boasts some of the industry’s leading technology. The Observe GSi-5, for example, uses Toyo’s Microbit studless tire compounds along with advanced siping technology. Toyo’s multi-wave sipes with the spider and swing sipe design are combined to increase stability in slippery conditions. High levels of silica keep the tire supple and working in colder temperatures while arrow-lift shoulder technology and sawtooth block edges help drive the tire through slush or snow. Truly these tires are built for the worst winter conditions yet are  prepared for weather which is continually changing.

Abram, Yokohama: Last season Yokohama introduced the Iceguard iG51v for light trucks, SUVs and crossovers.  This season, Yokohama will be introducing our advancements in winter tires that will feature our latest compound and tread design technologies to improve traction on ice, wet/dry traction and durability.   ■

[PAGEBREAK]

The view from  the experts

Fourteen participants in the winter tire segment shared their perspectives in this year’s winter tire story. They are:

• Peter Snel, chief R&D, passenger vehicles, Apollo Vredestein B.V.;

• Emil Herbak, country manager U.S.A., Apollo Vredestein B.V.;

• Anant Gandhi, product manager U.S. and Canada, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC;

• Joe Maher, product manager, passenger and winter tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC;

• Geoffrey Chang, marketing manager, Federal Corp.;

• David Shelton, director, product marketing for Giti Tire (USA) Ltd.;

• Julie Manson, brand manager, winter and Canada, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.;

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

• Ron Margadonna, senior marketing manager, Michelin North America Inc.;

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

• Robert Hepp, vice president strategic planning, Nokian Tyres Inc.;

• Jaap Leendertse, R&D winter platform manager, Pirelli Tire LLC;

• Ron Golab, advertising specialist and marketing assistant, Toyo Tire Canada Inc.; and

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

Is this the future of studded tires?

Nokian tire adds studs with the push of a button

How can you have a studded winter tire without studs? Nokian Tyres PLC says it has found a way. On the 80th anniversary of its original winter tire, the company has developed a concept tire that allows drivers to extend and retract studs by pushing a button.

Nokian says the concept tire gives a hint of the future. With a press of a button, the driver can bring out the studs to improve the grip of the tire. When studs are not needed, they are retracted back into the tire. Studs are not used on dry roads and stable winter conditions but can be activated in icy weather.

The concept tire uses the tread pattern and structural solutions of the Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 SUV studded winter tire. The studs on all four tires raise and lower at the same time. The body of the stud remains in place while the metal pin in the middle of the stud moves.

“This new concept tire is an amazing technological feat. The unique stud concept may indeed become a reality one day,” says Matti Morri, technical customer service manager.

Nokian says it developed and manufactured the world’s first winter tire in 1934. Two years later, the company’s engineers came up with an improved solution for passenger car drivers struggling with the slippery winter roads, and they called it the Nokian Snow-Hakkapeliitta. Today, the winter tire brand is known as the Nokian Hakkapeliitta.

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