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Winter tires and the 2013-14 season

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Winter tires and the 2013-14 season

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Tire dealers in the United States might have taken that proverb to heart when buying winter tires in 2012.

Following a mild 2011-2012 winter season — and perhaps stuck with plenty of extra inventory — dealers held back last year. The result was a significant drop in winter tire shipments.

According to Modern Tire Dealer statistics, the true winter tire market was down 14.5% in 2012. It dropped from 6.2 million units to 5.3 million.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) estimates passenger tires with “traction and snow tread patterns” dropped 24.2% year-to-year, from 9.5 million units to 7.2 million.

Will winter tire shipments pick up in 2013? The New England area and New York, which were hit hard by a recent snowstorms, depleted some inventories. Brandy Gadd, marketing manager for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., says the winter tire segment is expected to grow in both the U.S. and Canada through 2016.

Matt Edmonds, vice president of The Tire Rack, says educating the consumer on the benefits of winter tires is the key.

“As an industry, we’ve done a poor job of educating the consumer. You have to find ways to convince the consumer there is a personal benefit, and the personal benefit is control, which equates to safety in winter’s worse conditions.”

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Accurately predicting what the weather will be like eight months from now isn’t an exact science. So we will leave that up to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” and the National Weather Service when their prognostications are ready.

We can tell you what the winter tire trends are, and where winter tire technology is headed. Here’s what 10 tire manufacturers and marketers have to say about the winter tire market in general, and, in some cases, their product lines in particular.

At its February dealer meeting, Hankook Tire America Corp. introduced two seasonal tires, the Winter i*cept iZ and Winter i*Pike RS. The studless i*cept iZ is available in 24 14- to 18-inch T-rated sizes. The studdable i*Pike RS is available in 37 13- to 18-inch T-rated sizes. Both tires meet the Rubber Manufacturers Association’s severe snow service requirement.

Look for our upcoming stories on three other winter tire lines being launched just in time for the winter tire buying season. Write-ups for the Nitto NT90W from Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc. and the next generation Hakkapeliitta R and R SUV from Nokian Tyres Inc. will appear in our April issue.

MTD: Please describe the current market for winter tires.

Anant Gandhi, Bridgestone: “The current market for winter tires in North America has been rather volatile; overall demand for the last two years has been lower than the industry expected due to abnormally mild winters. The industry does, however, expect demand for winter tires to normalize as we start seeing more average temperatures in the United States and Canada during the winter season.

“The main challenge that remains is the fact that the majority of consumers are not properly educated about the benefits and performance advantages that winter tires offer versus summer and even all-season tires during winter months.”

Scott Jamieson, Cooper: “Although the strength of each winter’s weather impacts winter tire sell-out, this market has increased over the past several years, and we anticipate it to continue to increase. Newer entries into the market from various manufacturers are introducing sizing and speed-rating mixes that make winter tires a more attractive purchase for consumers. The growth of the CUV market makes this an exciting tire segment to be involved in as well.”

Dave Shelton, GITI: “Winter tires, if defined as tires that are designed to grip the road on extremely cold surfaces and in extreme cold conditions, have a definitive place in the market in any region where the temperatures remain below freezing for a good portion of a season. The industry challenge is that the domestic consumer is less than enthusiastic to make the investment necessary for these specialty products.”

Gadd, Goodyear: “The winter tire segment is growing. In the U.S., the segment grew 17% in 2011 versus 2010. For 2012, there was an estimated slight drop-off, but the tires shipped would still represent the second-highest number on record.

“In Canada, winter tire shipments obviously spiked in 2008 and 2009 with the passage of the Quebec law, then the numbers dropped after that high-water mark. Shipments have remained strong in the past three years, and a steady growth is expected to continue.”

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Henry Kopacz, Hankook: “Between 2011 and 2012, Rubber Manufacturers Association data showed a 1.5 million unit drop in winter tire sales. A warmer winter in 2011 across most of the United Sates caused this drop in winter tires sales. Because of this, many dealers had carryover winter tire stock going into the 2012 winter tire buying season.

“Winter tire sales for 2013 will also depend on the severity of the weather the U.S. sees, but overall, there should be an increase in winter tire sales.”

Steven Liu, Hercules: “The current market is soft, due to the rapid changes in weather conditions. This is also making it more difficult to forecast demand and manage inventory.”

Ron Margadonna, Michelin: “As denoted by the RMA, there have been some major swings in winter tire sales the past few years. This can mainly be attributed to extreme weather. Michelin is still committed to this product category and continues to develop new technologies that will help advance winter driving safety.”

Marc Bujold, Nokian: “There is huge potential. Many consumers are still unaware of the added safety of winter tires and still think they are only helpful in snow. The fact is that many in this country are driving on inadequate tires during the winter months and we see the results with unnecessary car crashes with every storm that rolls through.”

Stephen Ewing, Pirelli: “Despite some growth in recent years — excluding 2012 — the winter market is far from its potential and continues to be limited to areas with significant snowfall. Many consumers are still under the impression that winter tires are just for the snow.

“A season such as the 2012, when snow did not show up until late in the year, negatively affected sales and lowered dealers’ confidence in their ability to sell winter tires. The tire industry has not done a great job in educating consumers on the value of winter tires, and, therefore, needs to focus on the performance of summer and all-season tires in cold weather, and the improved traction and stopping distance given by the compounds and the tread designs of winter tires.

“Pirelli strongly believes that below 45-degree temperatures, winter tires offer remarkable improvements over all-season tires.”

John Hagan, Toyo: “Quite simply, the market is traditionally good for winter tire sales when it snows early in the year. For two years in a row, snowfall has come later in the season and has generally been light, i.e., mild winters. As winter tires are primarily ordered well in advance of the actual selling season, if there are warmer temperatures and little snowfall early in the subsequent winter period, dealers tend to be left with heavy inventories, which, in turn, creates a reluctance to place large orders during the customary, spring ordering period for the next winter. We also predict, as has been the case with most other products coming into 2013, that manufacturers will be more aggressive in pricing their winter products as compared to recent, previous seasons.

“On the consumer side, winter tires have all but replaced snow and studded tires in most areas of the country, as there have been significant advancements in snow traction, braking on ice and improvements in wet and dry handling, especially in cold climates for which the tires are principally designed. Consumers can find winter tires at all price points today, and Toyo believes its products offer just the right balance between excellent winter performance and value.”

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

Jamieson, Cooper: “The trend in the winter market is toward more drivers seeing a need for winter tires during the cold winter months. This can be partially attributed to the tire applications having transitioned from traditional all-season tires to more high performance and ultra-high performance in terms of compounding and tread design.

“There is also a growing understanding on the part of consumers that winter compounds are better able to remain flexible at colder temperatures than all-season or summer compounds. The shift away from the conventional snow tire designs and technologies to more performance and all-winter oriented constructions will continue to evolve over the next three to five years.”

Shelton, GITI: “Consumers are reluctant in the U.S. market to maintain two sets of tires.”

Gadd, Goodyear: “One of the trends is increasing popularity of winter tire usage in some vehicle segments. Specifically, in the radial light truck tire segment, winter tires represent a relatively small volume, but the growth is very fast.”

Kopacz, Hankook: “The most recent trend in the area of winter tires is the debate between studdable and studless technology. Many states have outlawed the use of studded winter tires and others are looking to do the same or impose fees for the use of studded winter tires. The industry has focused increased efforts on the design of a studless winter tire to address this issue. There is also an increased focus on winter tires for the SUV and CUV market.”

Liu, Hercules: “We see the trend vary by market. For example, some markets are demanding better snow traction performance in all-season tires, while others prefer studdable tires.”

Margadonna, Michelin: “The long-term historic annual growth has been +4% to 5% in winter tires and a future forecast is +2% to 3% per year due to anticipated milder winters.”

Bujold, Nokian: “A big focus for many brands now is on lowering rolling resistance. With $8 gas in Finland, LRR has been our focus for years. In fact our Hakkapeliitta R has the lowest rolling resistance in the industry. We now improved it by 5% with the Hakkapeliitta R2.

“A big focus in studded tires has been on lowering the impact of studs on the road surface. We continue to be a pioneer in this area with innovations such as the Eco Stud air cushion under the stud base to absorb the majority of the stud impact as a tire rolls. Additionally, this technology lowers in car tire noise dramatically making them almost as quiet as unstudded winter tires.”

Ewing, Pirelli: “In terms of rim sizes and speed ratings, we see in winter the same trends that we see overall, an increase in the 17- to 20-inch segment and a move to H- and V- from T-rated tires, driven mostly by the new OE car platforms. Winter tires now tend to cover the complete summer range; leading OEMs are now testing them and offering packages for all possible size/speed combinations in their product mix.”

Fardad Niknam, Toyo: “Consumers in the U.S. really want a product that performs excellent in all seasons, including winter season, so that they don’t have to change out their tires each year. The habit is not like Europe or even Canada, where there is a general practice or even a regulatory requirement to change to winter tires each year.

“We do find, however, that more and more drivers are looking for the mountain snowflake mark on all-season tires, especially in the LTR segment. They believe an all-season tire with the mountain snowflake mark will not need replacement in winter... they may be right, especially if the winters are mild. However, these same consumers may be disappointed with some performance compromises that might be made to get the ‘snowflake,’ especially mileage in non-winter seasons, and winter performance if temperatures are cold and snow and ice are frequent.”

(A tire branded with the mountain snowflake symbol meets the RMA’s standard for use in severe snow conditions.)

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MTD: What new winter tire technology is available?

Gandhi, Bridgestone: “Bridgestone currently offers a wide range of winter products incorporating various types of different technologies. Our premier ice and snow winter tires such as the Blizzak WS-70 and Blizzak DM-V1 feature evolutionary multi-cell compounds with biting edges that not only ‘sponge-off’ more of the water between ice and your tires that cause slippage, but also dig into ice creating additional grip with the biting edges.”

Jamieson, Cooper: “There is a mix of technologies from other tire segments that have been integrated into winter products; 3-D siping would be a prime example. The use of advanced polymers is now allowing for extended mileage and increased ice and wet grip properties, while tuning of design geometry has increased the snow traction capabilities of winter products.”

Shelton, GITI: “Many new products are taking one of two approaches.

“There is a push for the all-weather tire to compensate for the consumer resistance to having two sets of tires. Something has to give in this equation as technology doesn’t quite allow for the full capability at both ends of the temperature/weather/road/vehicle continuum.

“The other approach is to develop the best extreme weather capable tires for the newer vehicles having higher speed ratings and higher performance expectations.”

Gadd, Goodyear: “Speaking for Goodyear, our winter tire line for North America has been fully upgraded in the past three years. Excellent technology is found in winter tires from both Goodyear and Dunlop (see sidebar). Examples of this include: a directional tread pattern; multiple biting edges; wide tread grooves; strong shoulder blocks and the option of metal studs — all in the Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter.”

Kopacz, Hankook: “Currently, Hankook is employing the use of high-silica tread rubber compounds, 3-D Kerf Block and 3-D Shoulder Block technology. 3-D Kerf Block and 3-D Shoulder block technology minimizes block movement for improved handling and winter traction. There is also a trend in providing winter tires that provide reduced rolling resistance without sacrificing winter performance.”

Liu, Hercules: “Emerging technology in winter tires includes multi-cell compounding, nanotechnology-based compounds and advanced siping designs.”

Margadonna, Michelin: “There has been an evolution of the existing technologies in winter tires, especially in tread compounds. The primary benefit has come from the use of new formulations and materials. One of the key attributes of winter tires is the tread compound or molecular technology that keeps the rubber flexible at extreme cold temperatures. Michelin also looks to make mechanical advancements in tread design.

“There are many ‘evolutions’ of tread block features but the basic principle is to design a multitude of ‘biting edges’ into the winter surface for tractive grip and mobility. The Michelin X-Ice Xi3 utilizes features such as micro-pumps and cross zigzag sipes to create additional traction benefits.”

Ewing, Pirelli: “Winter tires in the past were focused on a specific temperature range only: either extremely low or mid-range. Additionally, many compromises had to be made in the past on comfort, noise and handling. The new generation of winter tires is able to cover the full range of winter temperatures without compromising on other performance attributes like ride and comfort which are now on similar level as summer tires. This was made possible with new highly engineered computer designed rubber compounds and detailed molding technology (sipe technology).”

Bujold, Nokian: “Our new studless Hakkapeliitta R2 incorporates Cryo Crystal additives that act as micro studs, resulting in dramatically shortened stopping distances. Most importantly, the additive is evenly distributed throughout the tread, ensuring the same grip even as the tire wears.”

Niknam, Toyo: “Manufacturers seem to be in a period of continual refinement of existing technologies, i.e., we are not seeing any breakthrough-type technologies emerging.

“These refinements include extending the traction and ice-breaking capabilities of winter tires throughout the tread life of the tire, as well as providing improved wet and dry handling in non-snow/ice conditions, while offering winter tires with enhanced speed capabilities to meet the needs of OE vehicles which increasingly arrive with HP and UHP fitments.”

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MTD: Where is winter tire technology headed?

Gandhi, Bridgestone: “As we continue to push the bounds of ice and snow performance for winter tires we continue to look toward improving the overall product performance and minimizing the associated trade-offs — whether it is wear, handling, etc. Our goal is to continue to keep the end-user in mind and be in-tune with their wants and needs while offering them the highest performing and dependable product possible.”

Jamieson, Cooper: “Winter compounding technology continues to advance quickly. The increased population of performance-tuned vehicles is and will continue to drive the need for more performance-oriented constructions and handling.... Integrating various and advanced siping technologies are also driving winter tire technology to a new level.”

Shelton, GITI: “The industry is striving to define the perfect tire for all circumstances, as we always have tried to exceed the requirements and expectations of the consumer. Even using advanced tread designs, great carcass development, and the latest in chemistry for rubber compounds, creating an all-purpose tire that can withstand the heat generated for the UHP market and high speed testing, yet the flexibility and extreme cold weather grip for ice and snow has eluded the industry. We are relegated into building tires that are more specific to an application and use, as well as tailored to the characteristics of the vehicle, its use, the climate, and the road conditions.”

Gadd, Goodyear: “Speaking for Goodyear, our winter tires help provide enhanced grip and performance in winter driving conditions, which can include snow, ice, slush, wet surfaces and very cold temperatures.

"As with all of our tires, our applied technology seeks to fulfill consumer needs.”

Kopacz, Hankook: “There will be a continued focus on tread compound technology for winter tires. Moving forward, tire makers will increase their efforts on winter tire tread compound technology to meet the demands of consumers for improved snow and wet traction. Our new Winter i*Pike RS and Winter i*cept iZ are good examples.

"Lower winter tire rolling resistance for improved vehicle fuel economy will also be important moving forward. Reconciling the RMA’s severe snow service requirements with low-rolling resistance compounding in one tire isn’t easy. But we have made great progress in this area."

Margadonna, Michelin: “Michelin is always looking for advancements in tire technology however, we do believe winter tire performance gains will be modest and continue to evolve both in the compounds and the tire design features.”

Bujold, Nokian: “We will continue to innovate and focus on providing class leading winter grip and handling properties. Creating winter tires that provide good enough grip to accelerate is not too complicated. But creating winter tires that handle well is truly an art that we will continue to master. And balancing these grip and handling demands with the requirements of low rolling resistance and low road wear is our ongoing focus.”

Ewing, Pirelli: “Winter tire technology is continuing to progress on the same course it has been heading, offering a complete solution without compromises for the cold weather season: A tire offering a smooth ride, handling, braking and snow and ice performance during the complete winter season.”

Niknam, Toyo: “We think winter tire technology is moving more and more toward fewer compromises between winter performance, dry performance and wear. Tire companies are also working toward a winter tire that has more performance capabilities in other seasons. In order to achieve this goal, pattern and treaWho are they?

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11 experts weigh in on winter tires

Modern Tire Dealer contacted all the participants in the domestic winter tire segment, and asked each company to not only put the present in perspective, but also predict the future. The 11 respondents are:

• Anant Gandhi, winter tire product manager, Bridgestone Americas Inc.;

• Scott Jamieson, director of product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.;

• David Shelton, director of marketing, GITI Tire (USA) Ltd.;

• Brandy Gadd, marketing manager, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.;

• Henry Kopacz, public relations and product marketing specialist, Hankook Tire America Corp.;

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

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

• Marc Bujold, global sales manager, e-commerce for Nokian Tyres PLC;

• Stephen Ewing, our North America Product Manager, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.;

• John Hagan, senior director of sales, and Fardad Niknam, senior director of technical services and product planning, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.d compound technology are the focus.”    ■

2 new winter tires: Goodyear sends Dunlop into the cold

Two Dunlop winter tires were introduced at the 2013 Goodyear Dealer Conference, held recently in Washington, D.C.

• The Dunlop SP Winter Sport 4-D has a unique “4-D Sipe System,” V-shaped grooves and deep snow notches. It is available in 18 H – and V-rated sizes ranging from 215/60R16 to 255/35R19.

• The Dunlop Winter Maxx features “Nano Fit Rubber” and unique sipes. It is available in 47 T-rated sizes ranging from 175/70R13 to 275/40R19.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. says the winter tire segment has a projected annual growth rate of 4.5%.

And the winner is... ‘Consumer Reports’ ranks Michelin No. 1 (and No. 2)

Every year, “Consumer Reports” runs the results of one (or more) of its tire tests in its November issue. In 2012, the magazine tested a total of 78 tires in four categories, including the winter tire category.

The top-rated tire was the Michelin X-Ice Xi3, followed closely by the Michelin X-Ice Xi2.

Also recommended by “Consumer Reports” were the Hankook Winter I*cept Evo, Pirelli Winter 210 Sottozero Serie II, Uniroyal Tiger Paw Ice & Snow II and the Bridgestone Blizzak WS70.

This year, the magazine will test 41 models of ultra-high performance all-season and summer tires for sporty and high-end touring cars. “CR” also will include evaluations of nine performance winter tires.

Pirelli’s Winter 210 Sottozero Serie II finished fourth in the “Consumer Reports” test.

 

 

 

 

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