Enthusiasts versus accidental UHP tire buyers
Is today’s UHP tire consumer a sports-minded enthusiast who wants the most road performance? Or is this consumer someone who purchased a vehicle for looks and utility, and it happened to come equipped with UHP tires?
The answer is — both.
Add to this diversity the fact that the ultra-high performance segment continues to evolve, and tire dealers are challenged to identify the needs of all UHP consumers.
“Today’s UHP buyer falls into two basic categories. One (group) fully understands the importance of using the right tires on his or her vehicle and fully appreciates the technology that goes into the making of a top-tier UHP tire,” says Tom Gravalos, vice president of marketing and original equipment, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.
“The second group is not as knowledgeable about vehicles or tires, but also recognizes that not all tires are created equal and uses ‘brand names’ to help her or him make the correct UHP tire choice.”
“Enthusiast consumers are typically very knowledgeable about cars and tires,” says Bob Liu, product manager, performance tires for Continental Tire the Americas LLC. “They often seek out a sporty tire with maximum traction. Enthusiast consumers typically purchase summer UHP tires, such as our ExtremeContact DW, and change to winter tires in cold climates.”
There are also cold climate enthusiast consumers who purchase all-season UHP tires, so tire makers have identified these segments and offer both summer and all-season UHP tires. That’s a good thing because the other type of UHP consumer also needs all-season UHP tires.
“Accidental UHP consumers, those who unknowingly purchased a vehicle with UHP tires, usually place more importance on tread life and comfort,” says Liu. “For these consumers, longer-wearing all-season UHP tires are a better match for their needs.”
While today’s UHP tire buyer is concerned about traditional performance characteristics such as handling and grip, tire makers are being challenged to provide even more.
“We are seeing an increased desire for that same tire to deliver safety, longevity and fuel efficiency,” says Doug Brown, sport UHP brand category manager at Michelin North America Inc.
“With the increase in high diameter, low profile OE fitments, more and more consumers are purchasing UHP tires on their new vehicles,” says Scott Sulsberger, regional sales manager with Nexen Tire Americas Inc. “With OE diameters trending toward 17-inch on standard sedans and 18- to 20-inch on sport and luxury sedans, sizes that were once aftermarket upgrades have now become standard equipment.”
Sulsberger says this trend has reduced the size of the UHP aftermarket and made the car manufacturers the new UHP retailers.
“The UHP tire customer of today is different than the UHP tire customer of a few years ago,” says Scott Jamieson, director of product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. “This is primarily brought on by the vehicle manufacturers more so than the customers making a conscious choice of purchasing a UHP tire. Vehicle manufacturers are now using UHP tires in non-traditional UHP applications.”
Jamieson says UHP can be classified as those tires that have a “W” or greater speed rating. He says that as vehicle manufacturers continue to increase wheel diameters from 15- and 16-inch to 17- and 18-inch, they also are providing increased performance and handling capabilities.
“A shift has been created from touring tires to UHP tires in mainstream applications,” Jamieson explains. “For example, the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal and the Chevy Cruz all have a W-rated fitment. It is this OE shift in UHP application that has created a new type of UHP customer.”
A lasting divide
Will UHP consumers today remain two separate groups? It’s very likely, since there will always be performance-oriented enthusiasts wanting the ultimate in grip and handling. Likewise, there also will be consumers looking for long tread life and comfort. But now UHP demand is also at the OE level.
“Along with the traditional sports sedans, coupes and roadsters, and the new growth in muscle cars, many new family vehicles are being equipped with V- and Z-rated tires,” says David Shelton, director of marketing for GITI Tire (USA) Ltd. “Even upscale CUVs and SUVs are being delivered with UHP tires.”
As demand for these types of vehicles increases, consumers are getting accustomed to the benefits of UHP tires. “Generally speaking, the UHP tire buyer is looking for better handling, grip, stylish appearance, shorter stopping distances, a fun driving experience and positive reviews in consumer publications and online,” says Tara Foote, high performance marketing manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “They have enjoyed the ride and handling from the UHP automobiles and tires, and don’t want to sacrifice that performance when choosing the next set of replacement tires.”
“Today’s UHP tire buyer is still looking for performance — cornering, braking and handling — but he or she is also looking for longer wear than was typical from UHP tires in the past,” says John Hagan, senior director of sales, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. “There are many consumers out there who don’t know they are UHP tire buyers. That person is definitely looking for longer wear and probably a comfortable ride, and they want it at a good price relative to the quality.”
In dealers we trust
As the speed of communication continues to explode in our modern world, consumers can find a great deal of information instantly. Online reviews are becoming more common, and many consumers take them seriously when considering a purchase.
“One thing in common with all tire buyers, not only ultra-high performance buyers, is that the amount of information online these days means consumers are getting more educated about purchases with the help of the Internet,” says Hankook Tire America Corp.
“A better-educated UHP buyer better understands the price tag associated with ultra-high performance.”
Although UHP tire buyers have more knowledge, consumers are still looking for the tire dealer to give them trustworthy advice. As the UHP tire segment evolves, that will continue.
“The evolution of vehicles has made many of the traditional UHP defined tire sizes (V-rated and above) a broad market tire,” says Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing at Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.
“The Camry, Accord and Sonata, the largest selling cars in the U.S., all have at least one fitment that is V-rated. This makes higher speed rated tires very common in today’s marketplace, and it increases the number of tires sold in this segment.”
Brennan says that looking forward, the number of tires coming as original equipment with higher speed ratings will increase. This will occur as small engine cars achieve higher levels of horsepower due to advances in technology.
“The number of ultra-high performance-defined tires in the marketplace using the traditional definition will continue to grow, making UHP a very important segment now and in the future.”
Brennan says he believes this segment must continue to be redefined. As it is, enthusiasts are likely to become even more knowledgeable.
“The enthusiast segment still has many diehards looking at test data, etc., on the UHP summer tire, but this has segmented to either more hard-core enthusiasts like me looking for High-Performance Drivers Education (HPDE) or track worthy offerings that are also streetable,” says Chet Plewacki, TBC Wholesale product marketing manager. “Or, they are looking for a well-performing tire to fit the wheel/tire combo they have on a budget.”
“As more and more vehicles come equipped with higher performance tires at OE, we expect to continue to see the segment grow,” says Andrew Briggs, director of product planning at Yokohama Tire Corp. ■