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Comparing the urban and tuner markets: There is plenty of cross-over, as buyers discovered on the trade show floor

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Comparing the urban and tuner markets: There is plenty of cross-over, as buyers discovered on the trade show floor

The buzzword at the SEMA Show was "urban," as in urban marketing. In some ways, urban marketing appears to be a sub-segment of the tuner market, although there are distinct differences.

"Urban marketing is difficult to define," says Peter Tyson, vice president of advertising, public relations and motorsports for Pirelli Tire North America Inc. "Our urban marketing is basically targeted at young people, both males and females, interested in the culture of hip-hop. And that culture of hip-hop is now no longer a niche culture, it´s a mainstream culture."

It´s also a lifestyle, according to Tyson. "The main element of the lifestyle is the music, but one of the key elemental aspects of that lifestyle is cars... particularly tuned cars and transformed cars."

Other tire manufacturers involved in both the urban and tuner markets suggest urban marketing is based on image while tuning involves improving performance. The image vs. performance sound bite doesn´t do either segment justice. But it´s a start.

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Nelly and Pirelli

To tire manufacturers like Pirelli, Falken Tire Corp., Yokohama Tire Corp., Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and Cooper Tire and Rubber Co., urban marketing at the very least is a profitable niche.

"Typically when you´re talking urban marketing, you´re talking the polar opposite of the import scene," says Richard Smallwood, Falken vice president of sales and marketing. “Owners wanting to lower SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade and Hummer H2 are not going after performance. They´re going after pure show. It´s all about appearance. It´s heavy audio and video, what you call ‘bling-bling.’"

The tuner, or import, scene, on the other hand, is primarily about performance modifications, he says. “When they put on springs, it´s more about gaining the performance as opposed to just dropping the car.”

Smallwood says urban marketing relies heavily on endorsements from athletes, models and entertainers, particularly hip-hop artists and rappers. When you get to the import scene, you don’t see any of that. The endorser is the guy building the car.”

The top two vehicle brands among consumers aged 16 to 25 are imports, according to a recent SEMA brand preference survey. Respondents rated Honda (17.7%) the most popular, followed by Nissan/Datsun (12.8%). Chevrolet (11%) and Ford (9.8%) ranked third and fourth, respectively.

Victor Li, director of marketing for Tireco Inc., classifies imports and "big-body American sedans" like the Chrysler 300 as tuner vehicles. He says tuner sizes generally range from 17 to 20 inches. In contrast, he adds, the urban market caters to larger vehicles like SUVs and light trucks; accordingly, tire sizes are larger.

Art Michalik, director of marketing communication for Yokohama, says the urban market “is derived from the culture of the city streets and fired by youthful energy. Generally associated with minorities, it transcends race and influences, even (to) suburban and rural youth. The urban market has now become a driving force in popular culture."

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Funkmaster Flex, a top hip-hop DJ, car customizer and television host (Spike TV´s “Ride with Funkmaster Flex”) was spreading the urban word at the BFGoodrich booth in SEMA’s "Performance Tires & Wheels sponsored by TIA" section.

"I don´t define it as color. I define it as age, I´d say, 18 to 24, 18 to 25,” he says. “I think urban is black, white, Hispanic, Chinese, orange, blue -- it’s a lifestyle. (The kids are) young, hip and they want the newest thing first.”

Flex agrees hip-hop is more mainstream, although urban marketing targets a younger demographic. “Hip-hop is not just music. Hip-hop is how you wear your pants, the type of sneaker you wear, if you wear an oversized shirt, what type of hat you wear. It´s a little more (about) imaging.”

Music videos -- featuring cars, of course -- are a big part of the culture, which is celebrated in magazines like Dub and Rides.

In the premiere issue of MPH, rapper 50 Cent, when asked, "Why are cars so important in hip-hop?” answered as follows: "In my neighborhood, a lot of times success flies past you on wheels. You can´t see a person´s home or their lifestyle. It depends on one expensive vehicle."

Both Pirelli and Goodyear launched urban marketing campaigns in conjunction with DUB magazine. Most recently, Pirelli partnered with DUB and another rapper, Nelly, to sponsor the "Nelly Golden Ticket Album Contest" in conjunction with the simultaneous release of two new Nelly CDs. The top prize was a 2005 DUB Edition Dodge Magnum RT with 22-inch Pirelli tires.

Even Cooper is running edgier advertising that caters to a more youthful demographic. How else do you explain its product placement deal with the MTV television series “Pimp My Ride”?

"I would say that the mainstream culture in the United States is moving into a different direction than it has the last 20 years," says Tom Dattilo, chairman, CEO and president of Cooper. "It´s got a tougher, faster, harder tone.”

According to Dattilo, urban marketing is not just for urban dwellers. “It´s for people who want that type of vehicle and performance, wherever they are."

Julian Baldwin, director of marketing and motorsports for Cooper-Avon Tyres Ltd., says the marketing of tires in the U.S. wouldn’t work in Europe. “Image seems to have more weight here in selling a tire than it does in Europe. It´s very performance technology-focused in Europe."

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Goodyear Fortera SL

Goodyear introduced its Fortera SL for the luxury sport light truck and SUV market at SEMA. Todd Hershberger, marketing manager for Goodyear light truck tires, says tires in this segment need to have both style and functionality.

"In this segment, style and appearance are of utmost concern. At the same time, however, the truck and SUV owners have needs for performance in everyday conditions.”

The latest edition to the Fortera family features a directional, "sweeping" tread pattern and a contemporary, stylized swirl pattern on its black sidewall.

"This vehicle segment is definitely heading in the up-size direction, and Goodyear is offering a selection for those who seek this kind of customization," says Hershberger. The Fortera SL "satisfies the vehicle owner who wants to get noticed with ‘jewelry for the vehicle’ styling that is the trademark for this segment."

The tire initially will be manufactured in two H-rated, 22-inch sizes. The 305/45R22 (which was showcased by Goodyear on a Dodge Ram) will be available in December; the 305/40R22 will be available during the first quarter of next year.

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A 24-inch Fortera SL concept tire also was showcased in Goodyear’s booth at the SEMA Show.

Mike Pulte, Goodyear’s extreme performance marketing manager, says “vehicle personalization” is the key. “The whole large diameter SUV trend was initiated in the urban scene. It was cultivated there. But if you look at a guy living in the Hamptons, and works in New York, what´s he driving? An Escalade or an expensive car. It really crosses over."

The 20-inch tire market (nicknamed “dub”) is now much more affordable, according to Pulte. Even the Kelly Signature HPT luxury high performance SUV tire is available in two 20-inch sizes. “The dub market is now mainstream, and not just OE on exclusive vehicles."

Goodyear also has strengthened its Dunlop selection with the introduction of three tires. The Dunlop Sport Maxx comes in 20 sizes, covering 38% of the ultra-high performance segment, according to Goodyear. Its size range is 16 through 22 inches, with most sizes Y-rated. The tire targets Audis, BMWs, Jaguars, Mercedes and other cars. The Dunlop Direzza DZ101 targets the sport compact tuner market and is available in 39 sizes with market coverage of 75% (Goodyear says the sport compact market has grown more than 30% over the last two years). The Direzza sports a directional tread pattern, a wide center rib and Goodyear´s "Max Flange Shield" to protect rims from curb damage.

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26 inches and counting

Pirelli and Hankook Tire America Corp. introduced 26-inch tires at the SEMA Show. Pirelli’s 26-inch Scorpion Zero Asimmetrico, size 315/40VR26 XL, will be available in January 2005. It is aimed squarely at the SUV and sport truck markets. The tire, which features Pirelli´s exclusive “Double Z" tread design, has a load-rating of 120. It will be produced in the company’s MIRS (Modular Integrated Robotized System) manufacturing plant in Rome, Ga.

Along with the 26-inch size, Pirelli is adding three 22-inch sizes to the Scorpion Zero Asimmetrico line: P275/45R22 XL, 285/30ZR22 XL and 335/25ZR22 XL.

Hankook’s Ventus ST will be available in two 26-inch sizes, including 305/30R26 110V, in January. The company also is seriously considering adding a 28-inch size to the line. Bill Bainbridge, Hankook’s marketing director, says the size 325/35VR28 tire is in the final design stage. It has a load rating of 120, and will "certainly have a limited application."

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Advan-tage, Yokohama

Yokohama Tire Corp. showcased its new Advan ultra-high performance line at SEMA. Influenced by motorsports technology, the Advan family will be introduced in the United States market in 2005.

1. Advan Sport. The new flagship ultra-high performance tire is designed for wet pavement traction, low noise and a comfortable ride, say Yokohama officials. (The tire, in a 20-inch size, is standard equipment on the Continental GT from Bentley Motors.) It replaces the AVS Sport.

2. Advan Neova. Designed and engineered for both wet and dry grip, the tire is an upgrade from the Advan Sport, according to Michalik. "We´re positioning it to be the grippiest tire on the block.” It will be available in sizes that will fit high-end performance sports cars.

3. Advan S/T. Engineered specifically for the new generation of ultra-high-performance SUVs, the tire’s speed ratings meet or exceed requirements from OE manufacturers.

Also at the SEMA Show, Yokohama introduced the latest addition to its Avid family, the all-season Avid TRZ (for "Three Ride Zones"). Yokohama also showcased two concept tires from its Parada line in its booth: the Parada Concept-SUV and Parada Concept-D. Michalik says the Parada line, including the Parada Spec-2, solely targets the tuner/sport compact markets.

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More than an urban legend

The definition of “dub” has evolved to include tire sizes greater than 20 inches. In addition to Goodyear, Pirelli, Hankook and Yokohama, no less than six other tire manufacturers decorated their booths with dub tires.

The five-rib Essenza 210 Type S/T tire line from SURE Tire Co. is available in three H-rated sizes: 285/60R18, 275/55R20 XL and 285/50R20 XL. There are six complementary Essenza wheel sizes.

The Cooper Zeon XST sport truck tire is available in four 24-inch, H-rated sizes: 295/40R24, 305/35R24, 295/35R24 and 315/35R24. Within the next two months, the same tires will be V-rated.

At the BFGoodrich booth, g-Force T/A KDW tires featured color in their tread patterns. The sizes of the concept tires were 285/35ZR22 and 305/35ZR24.

Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC unveiled the Firestone Firehawk Wide Oval ultra-high performance tire. Designed for muscle car enthusiasts, the H-rated tire will be available in early 2005 in 16- to 20-inch sizes.

Treadways Corp. introduced its Zenith tuner and sport truck tire. The tire will be available in 25 sizes, ranging from 17 to 24 inches, in the second half of 2005.

The new ECSTA SPT Sport from Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. features technology developed for the company’s F3 race tires. It will be available in nearly 60 sizes, including several 20-inch sizes, the second quarter of 2005.

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