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It wasn't too long ago that prototype 20-inch tires were show stoppers. At the combination International Tire Expo (ITE)/Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in Las Vegas, Nev., they were almost commonplace.

Pirelli Tire North America, Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp., Nitto Tire North America Inc., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and BFGoodrich Tires had numerous 20-inch (or higher) tires on display. Both Pirelli and BFGoodrich will be offering 24-inch tires for light trucks to dealers in the spring.

But honors for the largest passenger or light truck tire at the expo went to Yokohama Tire Corp.'s 26-inch prototype, the AVS S/T. Designed for use on light trucks, the size 335/25VR26 tire "is a technology statement," says Rick Brennan, Yokohama's director of marketing communications. "It's not for sale. Right now, there's no 26-inch market." (In photo, Discount Tire Co.'s Heath Spoenman (left) and Paul Nicolosi check out the tire in the tiremaker's booth at the ITE show.)

The markets for 18- to 24-inch tires are growing rapidly, however.

Light truck tires

Domestic and import light truck products account for 75%, or $18.6 billion, of the $24.8 billion domestic car and light truck accessories aftermarket, according to SEMA. Wheels, tires and suspension products account for nearly 25% of the entire market.

The two 24-inch tires introduced at the ITE are both light truck tires. Pirelli's Scorpion Zero, size 295/40VR24, will hit the retail market in February or March 2002. The BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW, in size 305/35VR24, will be available in the spring; more than 50 sizes, ranging from 16 to 24 inches, eventually will be available for vehicles ranging from sport compact cars to SUVs.

New light truck tires were hot items on the trade show floor.

* Treadways Corp. showcased three light truck tires. The Sumitomo HTR Sport A/T light truck tire has an M+S tread pattern and is available in sizes as large as 285/60R18. The Sumitomo HTR Sport comes in 14 sizes and targets the tuner light truck market.

The Telstar TrailBoss A/P is available in 30 P-metric and LT sizes and is designed for on-the-road applications, according to Bill Hirst, vice president of sales and marketing. "Consumers want the aggressive look of a light truck tire and the ride comfort of a passenger tire."

Treadways is preparing to start production on a new tire for the light truck and SUV markets, tentatively called the Crusader SUV. It is slated to be out by mid-2002 in 15 sizes, all P-metric, according to a Treadways spokesman.

* Toyo has introduced a flotation-style 33x13.0R18 size for its year-old Open Country A/T light truck and SUV line "to answer the needs of outdoor enthusiasts who require a larger diameter tire to handle rough terrain," according to Toyo.

* Pro Comp Tires introduced its Xterrain light truck tires designed for "extreme off-road rock crawling," says Daryl Caliendo, a Pro Comp spokesman. It comes in three sizes covering 15-, 16- and 17-inch wheels and "can be run at a lower psi than a conventional mud and snow tire." The Xterrain private brand tire is manufactured by Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

* Maxxis International showcased its new bias-ply Mudzilla LT. Greg Rauth, passenger tire sales manager, says the tire caters to "extreme off-road enthusiasts," like those who compete in rock crawling events. "People are jacking up the trucks again, especially on the West Coast."

Mudzilla LT tested at 3 psi and did very well, according to Rauth. "One reason why is the bead and sidewall are very stiff and stay on the wheel." The tire also has a long-wearing, self-cleaning tread design; special tread construction that allows flexing for rock climbing; and an extra sidewall protector with cut-resistant compound. It is available in seven sizes.

Rauth estimates the market at anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 units. The Mudzilla LT will compete against tires from Mickey Thompson and Interco's Super Swamper. Goodyear also has been very aggressive with its MT/R, he adds.

A radial version of the Mudzilla LT, to be called the Maxxis Bighorn, is under development.

* Kenda USA's Klever A/P is the company's first radial light truck tire. It has a continuous center rib, two steel belts, a nylon cap ply and three polyester belts. It is available in two blackwall sizes: LT235/75R15 six-ply and LT235/85R16 10-ply. More sizes are coming, says spokesman Brian Kelly.

* Hankook Tire America Corp.'s RF04 all-terrain light truck tire has a computer-optimized profile and is available in four sizes.

* Goodyear's Fortera HL tire is designed for "crossover" (truck-like chassis built on car platforms) and luxury SUVs, both growing markets. J.D. Power and Associates estimates more than 580,000 crossover SUVs were sold in the United States and Canada last year, and predicts the market will grow to 1.9 million units by 2006.

* Falken Tire Corp.'s all-season Ziex S/TZ04 sport truck tire will be available in March in 12 sizes ranging from 18 to 23 inches.

* Continental Tire North America Inc. (CTNA) designed the General AmeriTrac TR for owners of work trucks and recreational light trucks who want more traction, or who like the appearance of extreme-traction styling. "It's also an ideal step up for vehicles needing more off-road and utility service than SUV tires offer," says Jim Mayfield, CTNA's marketing director. It will be introduced in 15- and 16-inch sizes in March.

Ultra-high performance

To show how the ultra-high performance market has evolved, half of the 3.5 million Z-rated units sold in 2000 were all-season tires, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

The following ultra-high (Z- and V-rated) and high (V- and H-rated) performance tires were introduced on the trade show floor.

* Continental's ContiSportContact 2 was created with the help of bionics, which solves engineering problems by using data about the functioning of biological systems.

"The ContiSportContact 2 was developed for luxury sports cars with powerful engines and sophisticated suspension systems," says Mayfield. "Owners of these cars want fun at the wheel and design that reflects their individuality. They also demand safety, which means high cornering stability and shorter braking distances on both wet and dry roads."

The ultra-high performance tire will be available in the domestic replacement and original equipment markets the second quarter of 2002.

* Falken introduced two ultra-high performance passenger tires. The Ziex 512 will roll out the second quarter of 2002; it targets "performance customers in the 45- to 60-series (market) who are looking for a tire with decent mileage," says Darren Thomas, Falken product development manager. The Azenis 115 -- the company's "flagship summer product" -- is available in 15 sizes.

* Goodyear is expanding its Eagle F1 Supercar tire line by two 17-inch and two 18-inch sizes. They will fit 1988 and newer Corvettes, including the ZR-1. They are larger than the Eagle F1 GS EMT run-flat tires on the 2001 Corvette coupe and convertible, but weigh less, in part because the run-flat reinforcements have been removed.

"Taking mass out of the tires is extremely beneficial for wheel control because it reduces unsprung weight," says Mike Neal, Corvette ride and handling engineer.

* Hankook's Ventus HR II H405 passenger tire is H-rated and fits 16- and 17-inch wheels. "It will be available in 18 inches," says Mike Doyle, Hankook regional director. "We have to pay attention to the performance market."

* Michelin's Pilot Sport A/S is a Z-rated all-season tire manufactured with three separate compounds across the carcass of the tire. A summer traction tread compound is on the shoulder, followed by a winter traction compound across the main contact patch and a wet traction compound in the center rib.

The tire, manufactured in the U.S. using Michelin's C3M technology, will be marketed against tires like the Pirelli P7000 SuperSport and Dunlop SP Sport 5000. It is replacing the Michelin Pilot XGTZ4.

According to Oscar Pereda, Michelin's technical marketing manager, performance tires, the Pilot Sport A/S was designed strictly for the replacement market. However, vehicle manufacturers have since shown interest in the tire.

It is available in 36 sizes, including 19- and 20-inch, covering 63% of the Z-rated all-season tire sales.

* Pirelli is nearly doubling the size offering of its PZero Rosso performance tire. It will jump from 34 sizes to 62 sizes by mid-2002.

* Tireco Inc. introduced two new metric sizes to its NS-II Ultra Sport line: 215/35HR18 and 225/40HR18. Size P265/60HR18 was added to its N-890 NS All-Sport line.

* Toyo's Proxes TPT (Total Performance Touring) tire is an all-season, H- and V-rated tire available in 23 sizes for cars with 14-, 15- and 16-inch wheels. It comes with a 65,000-mile limited tread wear warranty.

The company also added 12 sizes to its Proxes T1-S ultra-high performance passenger tire line.

* Treadways Corp.'s Centennial Interceptor HR4 performance tire line is produced by Goodyear and is available in 24 sizes.

And the rest

Goodyear is in the process of repositioning the Kelly Charger performance line. Now called "Charger by Kelly," the next generation, all-season "performance appearance" radial is available in 22 passenger and light truck tire sizes with a 55,000 mile tread wear warranty. Five more sizes are on the drawing board.

The T- and S-rated tire line replaces the 50,000-mile Charger SR line.

Its T-rated tire sizes are blackwall; the S-rated sizes are blackwall on one side and raised-white letters on the other. The new Charger has "an 'H' look on an 'S' and 'T' tire," says Jack Winterton, general marketing manager, Kelly brands. "We feel there's a practical consumer out there."

According to Goodyear statistics, the appearance performance segment accounts for 51% of the performance tire market. High performance accounts for 32.5%, and ultra-high performance 14.5%.

"We're going to have to do more on the H and V/Z side in the future," says Winterton.

* Treadways introduced two broad-line tires. The 65- and 70-series Eldorado Marquis Touring premium passenger tire replaces the Eldorado Crusader II. The 60-, 65- and 70-series Jetzon Grandeur Touring G/T comes in 18 sizes and comes with a 100,000-mile warranty.

"The broad-line market is changing" as more auto manufacturers equip their cars at the factory level with performance-type tires, says Hirst. "But there's still plenty of business."

* Pirelli's P6 "allroad" passenger tire is part of the company's P6 Four Seasons line and is available in North America as a replacement unit in 16 sizes. The company says 18 more sizes will be added by June 2002.

* Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. unveiled its H/P 4000 passenger touring tire, which will be available in early 2002 in 16 14-, 15- and 16-inch sizes. The company's XR 600 also comes out next year and will be available in 15 sizes.

The traditional broad-line market "is still very strong," says Vincent Lewis, vice president of Treadway Exports, a division of Hercules.

* Hankook's Aurora Radial H715, which is available in 30 sizes, has an 80,000-mile warranty.

* Cooper Tire introduced its Weather Master S/T2, a P-metric standard tire in 75-, 70-, 65- and 60-series sizes. It will complement the Weather Master S/T, and replace the Weather Master line.

* Continental's ContiWinterContact TS 790 snow tire line is available for the first time in North America. It utilizes cross-linked sipes to gain better traction in wet and dry winter conditions.

The sipes are aligned on the asymmetrical tread pattern to maximize water dispersion, says the company. "The TS 790 line provides sufficient grip for safe progress on snow and ice, even at higher speeds," says Mayfield.

Yokohama rolls a seven

New tires, including a light truck tire with a split personality, fill ITE booth

Yokohama Tire Corp. displayed a little of everything for dealers attending the International Tire Expo (ITE). Four of the tires were consumer oriented.

* Geolander H/T-S. "It's one line but it fits several different market segments," says Rick Brennan, director of marketing communications. One design caters to standard fitments; it has a 60,000-mile limited tread wear warranty. One has a tread designed for heavy-duty, three-ply, Load Range E applications (larger tread blocks).

And one has a directional tread pattern in plus sizes up to 22 inches. It will be available in the fourth quarter of 2002.

* Parada Spec-2. The Spec-2 replaces the Parada. Both tires have the same tread pattern, but the Spec-2 has more dry and wet grip thanks to tread compounding advances, according to the company. It will be introduced at the replacement level Jan. 1 and eventually be available in 11 sizes -- including two 19-inch sizes.

* AVS ES100. Designed for the V- and Z-rated tire market, the ES100 is an economy ultra-high performance tire. Yokohama says this segment has doubled in size since 1997. The ES100 will replace the AVS Intermediate during the second quarter of 2002.

* Guardex 721. Yokohama's new snow tire replaces the Guardex 310. It features severe snow traction characteristics, including 16- and 17-inch fitments.

Yokohama displayed two medium truck tires that will be launched in mid-year 2002. The TY527 is a long-haul drive axle tire with a one-inch tread depth. Its unidirectional tread pattern helps reduce block movement.

The RY587 is a premium long-haul trailer tire; it will replace the RY112.

The company also showed off the technology surrounding its underground mining tire, the Y69U. It has a reinforced tread pattern and sidewall, and will be available by April of next year.

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