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Tire sizes to watch

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Tire sizes to watch

In my first article in the February 2013 issue, I talked about how to get your arms around the ever present issue of SKU proliferation. That is an important task and a sizeable one, and it will take time to ingrain that process into your system of product planning.

Hopefully you are working toward that end, but in the meantime I thought it would shortcut things a bit, if I gave you a cheat sheet of sizes to watch.
Since I don’t know what brands you distribute, what part of the country you do business in or what you currently have on your product screen, you’ll still have to do your part to pick the SKUs, but I can at least narrow down some sizes for you and give you a place to start.

New all over again

These three sizes were all new eight to 12 years ago but had extremely limited application. Two of them had become almost extinct before another round of original equipment fitments brought them back to life.
The recycling of sizes by automakers is a relatively recent trend. It has happened across multiple vehicle segments for different reasons, but much can be related to the need for better fuel economy and the cosmetic appeal of larger wheels. The three sizes below are great examples of tires that were new and are now new all over again.

205/65R16 This tire size was the standard fitment for the Nissan Altima from 2002-2004. It quickly became kind of a big deal, because if you were not a Continental dealer, you had nothing to offer in this size. But after three years, it was gone. No other vehicles used the size until the 2009 Mazda6. Even so, the sales volume of the Mazda did not incite a real call to action.

Fast forward to 2011 when the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima began using the size on base models. The sales of the revamped pair really took off and they are currently key vehicles in the midsize sedan segment. Most recently, the 2012 Toyota Camry and 2013 Honda Accord adopted the size.

You might want to duck and cover because this size is going to explode. With approximately one million vehicles sold annually between the four models, you can be sure that your demand will ramp up quickly. And while it’s likely that many of these new models will be fitted with the larger 215/55R17 or 225/50R17 option in higher trim levels, there will still be plenty of the base models looking for hoops soon.

Check your product screen for coverage in T- and/or H-rated touring tires and check your forecast frequently.

195/50R16 — Similar to the first tire size mentioned, 195/50R16 started out with extremely limited fitments, highlighted by the “performance” oriented Dodge Neon R/T from 2001-2004 and Mazda Protegé’s top trim in 2002-2003.

These short-lived fitments had relatively low demand and then the size went into hibernation for seven years. It’s time to wake up this size again, as it has become the go-to sport trim option for some of the top cars in the compact segment: the Ford Fiesta years 2011-2014, Hyundai Accent in 2012-2013 and Toyota Yaris/Prius C in 2012-2013. You’ll want to start looking into the OE replacement tires for your inventory.

235/55R19 — This tire size began as a lone and surprising fitment option on the Chrysler Pacifica back in 2005. The size gained some country club credibility with the 2008 Land Rover LR2 and 2009 Audi Q5, but still remained a low volume specialized fitment.

The situation has changed rather dramatically. Starting in 2011 the size was fitted to 12 vehicle models across the large car and crossover segments, including: Audi Q5, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Chevy Equinox, Ford Flex, GMC Terrain, Lincoln MKT, Land Rover LR2, Lexus RX, Mazda CX-7 and Volvo XC-60. Most recently the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorrento are sporting the size in various trims.

The long list of popular crossover vehicles makes this a no-brainer for the near future. Given the range of vehicle pedigrees it will probably benefit you to have a “better” and “best” option on your product screen sooner than later.

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Shape shifters

The size recycling takes place in a different form for the following two sizes. Both were once the front only size for some well-heeled dream machines in sticky summer UHP form. Now they are far more common on much more accessible transportation. Plus they have traded their chic summer clothes for more sensible all-season wraps.

245/40R19 — This size was first introduced on the 2003 Jaguar XK8, followed by thefreshly resurrected BMW 6 Series in 2004. Then came Ferrari, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz in 2005. It was business as usual in exotic UHP summer land until 2009-2010 when aspiration luxury makes like Acura and Infiniti, plus more bourgeois brands like Nissan and Pontiac, adopted the size in all-season form. Since then the Buick LaCrosse and Regal, Chevy Malibu, Hyundai Azera and Kia Cadenza have all come to the party.

Unless a dealer had a thriving UHP business or a rich mix of customers, they would be hard pressed to find a reason to stock this size at all just a couple years ago. Now with Buick and Nissan/Infiniti in the first replacement cycle and Chevy, Hyundai and Kia with new fitments, it is time to seriously think about this size. You’ll need to look at the all-season UHP or performance touring categories; a W-rated tire gives you the most coverage there. The Maserati guys can special order.

235/45R18 — Once an oddball summer fitment on the ill-fated Infiniti M45 and then as the front only fitment on the uber-rare Ford GT, this size seemed doomed from the start. However, in 2008 it popped up on the new Mitsubishi Eclipse and Galant, Saab 9-3 and Honda Accord EX-L Coupe. Not a list of world-beaters, but collectively noteworthy given their all-season treads. Now with Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Buick Verano, Mazda6, VW Passat/Beetle, 2013 Honda Accord sedan and Lexus GS sporting fitments, this size is about to get hot.

This reminds me of 225/50R17 a few years ago — not much to talk about from a volume standpoint, then it got on the Fusion and Accord and ramped up quickly. This is another one to watch for V-rated all-season performance or touring. You don’t want customers walking out on this sale.

New: advanced product screen

These last three sizes are a bit riskier than the other sizes discussed so far. They are newer to the market, with a narrower range of fitments and there isn’t much aftermarket business yet. I have a hunch, though, that these sizes are progressing from sizes you should know about, to sizes you should consider bringing into your inventory.

235/55R20 — Initially an optional fitment on the 2009 Nissan Murano (a vehicle that also launched 235/65R18 to the tire world in 2004), this size has grown OE footing as an option on the current Nissan Pathfinder, Cadillac SRX and Infiniti JX. If the SRX platform trickles down to new GMC and Chevy models, it is likely this size will trickle down with them.

Also, as the OEMs continue to use the big wheel/narrow tire philosophy on crossovers, this size could be ripe for future models from other auto manufacturers as well.

235/50R19 — This size made its debut as the base tire on the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class. Soon after it was used on the 2011 Toyota Sienna wearing the SE trim.
Both fitments are still active currently so they are near the beginning of the first replacement cycle. Though there aren’t as many of these vehicles on the road, when compared to the Sienna trims with 18-inch wheels, these could still be important sales from a revenue and customer service standpoint. Apart from being a big ticket, Toyota Sienna owners aren’t as used to waiting for special order parts as Mercedes owners.

Lastly, there are many minivans and crossovers that use the 225/65R17 and 235/55R18 tire sizes. It is quite possible that a 19-inch rim option will soon become available on these vehicles, too, which is why you should have your eyes on it.

235/40R19 — Aston Martin DB9s don’t find their way into a lot of independent tire shops looking for two front tires, so 235/40R19 probably isn’t on your radar. I would venture though that a lot of Ford Fusions and VW Beetles frequent independent tire shops and even a few Lexus GSs from time to time.

This is why I bring up this last size. While the size isn’t new to James Bond, it’s new to the real world and in all-season H- and V-rated options to boot. 235/40R19 is a legitimate Plus One size for 235/45R18, and given the number of vehicle models that now wear that size and the annual sales of those vehicles, I expect 235/40R19 to grow relatively quickly. You may not need to stock it quite yet, but you will soon.

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Taking the time to perform consistent checks of new vehicle fitments can pay off, especially when paired with new vehicle sales figures; nothing is a more accessible and effective indicator of the future tires needed by your customers.

While the sizes described here are not meant to be a comprehensive list of new size opportunities, they are the sizes I believe will have the most impact in the short term by adding to your product screen, or filling out your product screen. They are also sizes that can fly under the radar because of their initial specialized OE placement under more exotic brands. Lastly, these sizes are more focused on the passenger car and crossover vehicle segments as the main light truck sizes tend to be less unique across brand and models and change less frequently with model updates.

That being said, if I were setting up a new process to review new sizes, I would start with reviewing the top 20 to 25 selling vehicles in the United States (which certainly includes light trucks). This allows you to stay on top of the new OE tires and sizes that will come with the biggest volume.

While it’s trickier to assess the product screen potential of a 235/45R18 based on a Suzuki Kizashi fitment, a light bulb should appear when that size winds up on a perennial best seller like a Honda Accord, or a number of popular vehicles in the same model year.

That is hard information to come by if you rely on walk-in business for discovery. Even if you only set aside an hour or two every six months to review the top-selling vehicles and their associated OE tires, you’ll start to get ahead of the market and soon be on the way to creating your own sizes to watch list.    ■

Robert Abram has worked in the tire industry since 1992, most notably with Dealer Tire LLC and Yokohama Tire Corp.

For more articles by Robert Abram, see:

What you should know about tire testing

Discovering clues on the map to buried treasure

The secrets to car dealer success

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