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Performance tire sales: From 50 years ago to 25 years ago to now

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Performance tire sales: From 50 years ago to 25 years ago to now

A couple of guys riding around in a Corvette stop at a tire dealership and tell the dealer they need new tires. When asked what kind, the driver says, “Nylon premiums, the best.” The dealer replies, “That’ll run you $45 apiece.” Unconcerned, the driver agrees to the sales price. Nylon tires for a Corvette? High performance, premium tires that cost only $45 apiece? What year is this?

It’s a 1962 scenario. At that time, nylon premiums were bias tires considered top of the line. Few consumers had even heard of radial tires, and only tire company engineers were talking about bias-belted tires.

More than 50 years later, the definition of “performance tire” continues to evolve. Long gone is the cosmetic performance tire, which was little more than aesthetically pleasing. In 1962, there was no such thing as an “ultra-high” performance tire.

On its way out is the definition of performance based solely on speed ratings. Size and fitment are becoming equally as important when determining a performance category. In addition, it won’t be long before H-rated tires become the base line for broad-line.

Already “in” is the fine-tuning of the old ultra-high performance category, which now includes “max” performance (a term created by The Tire Rack) and “extreme” performance tires.

Twenty-five years ago, UHP summer tires were defined as V- and Z-rated tires in 55-series and lower sizes (think BFGoodrich Comp T/A or Pirelli P700). High performance tires were primarily H-rated tires in 70-, 65- and 60-series sizes.

The high performance segment was much larger than its ultra-high performance counterpart. But even combined, they remained a niche in the overall replacement passenger tire market.

Not anymore. In 2012, UHP tires accounted for 32 million of the 192.7 million replacement passenger tires shipped domestically, or 16.6%. When you add high performance tire shipments into the mix, roughly one-third of all the replacement tires sold in the United States last year — 65 million tires — were at least H-rated, 70-series or lower (see shipments chart on page 10).

So, what is the makeup of the average high and ultra-high performance tire buyer? Modern Tire Dealer decided to survey independent tire dealers to find out. The results will give you a benchmark against which to compare your goals.

Buying habits

Based on data from our “2013 High Performance Tire Survey,” the average high performance tire buyer is:

• a male

• between the ages of 25 and 49, who

• needs an H-rated,

• 17-inch tire, but

• does not specify brand when he comes into your shop, and is

• more than likely price-conscious.

For purposes of this survey, we defined a high performance tire broadly: at least H-rated and higher, 70-series and lower. UHP (V-rated through Y-rated) tires are included in that definition.

Here are the results, with commentary.

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Q. In what percentage of high performance tire sales do the following situations apply?

Customer specifies brand and buys that brand: 25.4%.

Customer specifies brand, but you help him/her make a different choice: 30.6%.

Customer does not specify brand: 44.0%.

The meaning of the results to this question is clear. Tire dealers directly influence the final high performance tire sale nearly 75% of the time.

In our “1987 High Performance Tire Survey,” 71% of the respondents helped the tire buyer make the purchase, even though only 39% of the customers specified the brand name (compared to 56% in 2012).

When asked, “What percent of your high performance tire buyers replace their original equipment high performance tires with the same brand?” the respondents to our 2013 survey said their customers do so 35% of the time. That corroborates the tire dealer’s influence.

Q. Please indicate what percent of your high performance tire sales each size wheel diameter represents.

Seventeen-inch tires represented more of the high performance unit sales than any other size: 29.7%. That compares to close to zero percent in 1987!

The second most popular size was 16 inches at 23.7%, followed by 18 inches (16.2%), 20 inches (10.3%) and 15 inches (9.5%).

In 1987, 15-inch high performance tires made up 53.2% of high performance tire sales at the dealership (the three most popular sizes were 215/65R15, 225/70R15 and 195/60R15). In 2012, 15-inch tires made up 9.5% of the average dealer’s high performance tire sales, according to our latest survey.

Q. What percent of your total high performance tire sales does each of the following speed rating categories represent?

Z-rated tires used to apply to any speed greater than 149 miles per hour; however, how much greater was open-ended.

“As vehicles have increased their top speeds into Autobahn-only ranges, the tire speed ratings have evolved to better identify the tire’s capability, allowing drivers to match the speed of their tires with the top speed of their vehicle,” says The Tire Rack (www.tirerack.com).

Although speed ratings have expanded, the Z rating is still used, often in conjunction with W- and Y-rated sizes.

“While a Z-speed rating still often appears in the tire size designation of these tires, such as 225/50ZR16 91W, the Z in the size signifies a maximum speed capability in excess of 149 mph, 240 km/h; the W in the service description indicates the tire’s 168 mph, 270 km/h maximum speed.”

The Tire Rack adds that when the Y-rating in a service description is enclosed in parentheses, such as 285/35ZR19 (99Y), “the top speed of the tire has been tested in excess of 186 mph, 300 km/h.”

Q. What is the percent of males vs. females of high performance tire buyers at your dealership?

We didn’t track the male/female split in 1987. In our 2007 survey, however, the breakdown was 74% males, 26% females. Five years earlier, it was 77% males versus 23% females.

The increase in female high performance tire buyers isn’t surprising, given the rise in women tire buyers in general. According to Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC research, women are “actively involved” in their car maintenance and purchasing decisions 90% of the time.

Q. What is the percent by age group of high performance tire buyers at your dealership?

Wonder why most television programming aims for the coveted 18-48 age demographic? Because that is what advertisers want. A young audience isn’t burdened with, say, brand loyalty.

Ah, but conventional wisdom would say the older you are, the more money you have to spend. If that is true, then high performance tire buyers are trending positively for tire dealers.

In 1987, the average age of a high performance tire buyer was 30.1 years old. The average age in our 2013 survey ranges from an unrealistic minimum of 31.6 (if all the percentages in each age group applied to the youngest age, in our case 16, 25, 35 and 50, respectively) to at least 40.2 (there is no limit to the final age group; we multiplied 50 by 19.7%, but logically, there are older buyers in that category).

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Accidental buyers

When asked, “Does the average non-sports car owner know the speed rating on his/her OE tires?” an overwhelming 97.6% of the dealers said no. And that’s where sticker shock comes into play. It also helps explain why only 35% of your high performance tire buyers replace their original equipment high performance tires with the same brand. With so many options in the aftermarket, price is often a factor.

Close to 72% of the respondents to our most recent survey described the average high performance tire buyer as price conscious. Keep that in mind when 2010 base-model Toyota Camry owners need their P215/60R16 V-rated tires replaced.

More results from our 2013 survey

Q. How many brands of custom wheels do you sell each year?

A. 75% of the respondents sell between one and 10 brands.

Q. What percent of your custom wheel customers ask for a specific brand?


A. 17.9%.

Q. What percent of your high performance tire buyers also purchase wheels at the same time?

A. 11.1%.

In our 2013 survey, 57.3% of the dealers said they charged more for mounting and balancing a high performance tire and wheel. In our 2007 survey, 67% said they charged more.   ■

And the survey says... MTD breaks down wheel sales

The vast majority of independent tire dealers sell custom wheels – nearly 86%, according to our 2013 Custom Wheel Survey.

 That is much higher than in 2007, when 63% of our survey respondents sold custom wheels.

When asked what wheel-related accessories they carry, the tire dealers who said they sell custom wheels answered as follows:

• custom wheel lug nuts: 89.8%;

• custom wheel valve stems: 83.1%.

• custom wheel weights: 79.7%.

• locking lug nuts: 62.7%.

• waxes, polishes, cleaners: 33.9%.

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High and ultra-high performance tire shipments

(as a percentage of total replacement passenger tire units shipped; units in millions)

Year     HP        UHP     Total     % of market

2012     33.0      32.0      65.0      33.7%

2011     32.0      29.7      61.7      31.4%

2010     31.9      26.0      57.9      29.1%

2009     29.6      22.6      52.2      28.3%

2008     27.8      19.8      47.6      24.4%

Source: Modern Tire Dealer

Yet another ’Vette: The latest Chevy model changes brands, not size

In 1962, there were 66 million registered automobiles in the United States. Gas was 31 cents a gallon. And the tire size on a new Corvette was 6.70-15.

In 2011, the most recent year the United States Department of Transportation collected the data, there were an estimated 125.7 million registered autos. Gas was $3.53 a gallon ($3.60 in 2012). And the tire sizes on the Corvette C6 Coupe were 245/40ZR18 on the front, 285/35ZR19 on the back (both Y-rated).

The cost of a Corvette tire in 1962 was $45. To replace the original equipment tires on the 2012 Corvette, owners will have to shell out more than $300 each (with the rear tires being more expensive).

Standard tire sizes on the Corvette are a good example of how ultra-high performance summer tires have evolved.

The 2011-2013 ’Vettes were fitted with Goodyear Eagle F1 GS-2 EMT run-flat tires.

The tire sizes on the 2014 Corvette Stingray remain the same. However, the brand is different. For the first time, Michelin tires are the exclusive OE tires. The Y-rated Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP run-flat tire was co-developed by Michelin North America Inc. and General Motors Corp.

However, when it comes time to replace those tires, in addition to the OE tires, there are 16 max performance tire options available to the tire buyer, according to The Tire Rack.

Evidently, Corvettes, and by implication, tire dealers, are going to be around for a long time. In the 2009 “Star Trek” movie, a young James T. Kirk is seen driving a 280-year-old Corvette. The year is 2245.         

See the Performance Handbook for additional survey charts. A digital version is available on our homepage.

For more 2013 Performance Handbook articles, see:

Mounting and balancing equipment and tips

An installer's guide to wheel offset

Understanding tire sidewalls: Reading, writing & 'rithmetic

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