R/T Tires: New Category, Not Marketing Hype
Is the alphabet soup known appropriately as the LT tire market big enough for another letter? Until recently, there were only three types of LT-sized tires: H/T for highway-terrain, A/T for all-terrain and M/T for mud-terrain.
Now there may be the makings of an R/T, or rugged-terrain, tire, although the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) does not yet acknowledge or track such a tire segment. But light truck tire manufacturers and marketers confirm consumers want a tire that fits in-between the A/T and M/T tire segments.
“Nitto does not refer to this segment as an R/T, but rather our enthusiast base describes it as the hybrid-terrain,” says Angelo Naval, senior director of product planning and business development for Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc. “We define hybrid-terrain as a light truck tire product that incorporates the best traits of an A/T and M/T tire into one.
“The Nitto enthusiasts were demanding… a product that has the characteristics of an A/T tire — i.e., comfort, low noise — but wanted a more aggressive design like an M/T tire to match the strong persona of their full-size pickup truck. A hybrid terrain needs to have a good balance of on- and off-road performance.”
Nitto (Ridge Grappler), Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. (Open Country R/T), American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. (Klever R/T), Omni United USA (Renegade RT+) and Atturo Tire Corp. are actively marketing R/T or hybrid-terrain tires. Atturo uses another letter, “X,” in the nomenclature for its Trail Blade X/T.
American Omni Trading Co. LLC, Continental Tire the Americas LLC, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Falken Tire Corp., Hankook Tire America Corp., Kumho Tire USA Inc., Maxxis International, Nexen Tire America Inc., Nokian Tyres Inc., Pirelli Tire North America Inc. and Yokohama Tire Corp. are among the companies without a tire targeted for the R/T segment, although many of them are thinking about it.
Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, Michelin North America Inc. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. also are without R/T-specific products, although the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac, introduced in 2009, is considered by many to be the first R/T tire.
How do you define an R/T tire? Is the market growing? What sizes make up this new segment? We asked the experts for information on this unofficial tire segment. It’s now official. MTD: How do you define R/T tires?
Michael Mathis, Atturo: We consider the hybrid-terrain a tire which delivers the look of the M/T, but the lower noise and better road response of an A/T. As the popularity of our Trail Blade M/T was growing, we heard from consumers who loved the knife blade incorporated into our “menacing” and distinctive sidewall and tread design, but really wanted a tire which was more highway friendly without giving up the appearance. That is how we developed our Trail Blade X/T. It has the sidewall and shoulder appearance of an M/T, but with a center tread more like an A/T. The performance delivered is about 90% of the off-road (mud, sand, gravel) of our M/T, but a significantly lower noise level and improved overall on-road manners for steering, braking and comfort.
Scott Jamieson, Cooper: An R/T, or rough/rugged terrain tire, blends the more aggressive look of a mud tire with the more comfortable ride and long-lasting performance of an all-terrain tire. R/T tires generally enhance the look of the truck over and above what the OE tire provides and give the driver greater off-road traction compared with an all-terrain tire. And, R/T tires are not as noisy or harsh riding as mud tires generally are.
R/T tires are a great way to enhance the curb appeal of a vehicle and do so without giving up ride comfort. An R/T tire is generally considered a notch above an all-terrain tire in terms of off-road performance enhancements. It’s a great tire for the mid-level enthusiast — someone who is doing more than just driving to the river to go fishing, or out to the trails when it snows. These tires are for people who really like to go off-road regularly, but might not be as serious as those who travel to extreme off-road destinations as a passion. An R/T tire can generally handle softer ground and more uneven terrain than an all-terrain product can.
Drew Howlett, Falken: We define an “R/T” tire as a “hybrid” tire, in-between an “all-terrain” type tire and a traditional “mud-terrain” type tire. We know many SUV and light truck consumers want the aggressive looks of mud-terrain tires, but they don’t necessarily need the extreme off-road capability that those tires provide, nor do they want the on-road compromises. During the alliance between Sumitomo Rubber Industries and Goodyear, the Dunlop Radial Rover R/T was born; I’d venture to say this was one of the first if not the first “R/T” tire in the U.S. market. The Dunlop Radial Rover R/T featured an all-terrain-like center tread with open shoulder blocks, which were pinned for studs. Since then, the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac and Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX joined the hard-working R/T tire crowd, and were adopted by many consumers for aesthetic reasons over capability. This was the first group of hybrid R/T tires in my mind. Today the Toyo Open Country R/T and Nitto Ridge Grappler, along with some lower tier offerings, represent the modern R/T-type tire in the U.S. market.
Daniel Gode, Hankook: While not officially named, the market appears to have defined the segment as somewhat of a hybrid, using terms such rough-terrain, rugged-terrain, hybrid-terrain, and extreme all-terrain. It appears that the intent is to meet the demand for on-road comfort and performance while providing the more aggressive appearance of a mud-terrain tire. The visual element comes from a more distinct looking, and sometimes practical, shoulder and sidewall design while attempting to reduce noise and vibration by keeping a lower void ratio in the tread pattern.
Brandon Stotsenburg, Kenda: Traditional A/T tires have been trending toward more on-road applications, featuring lower noise and often offering mileage warranties. This has opened an opportunity for a compromise of a more traditional A/T tire with an off-road M/T tire as shown by the “rough- or rugged-terrain” label. The end user is likely to be either a work truck or aspirant consumer who wants the look of an off-road tire and feel of an A/T tire. This tire must be capable of strong off-road performance with enhanced winter performance in addition to reasonable noise and ride.
Kenda introduced its new Kenda Klever R/T KR601 product targeted specifically at this segment in late 2017 after spending considerable resources at our Akron Technical Center to properly benchmark and develop a tire specifically for the North American consumer. We describe the Klever R/T as follows: “Premium performance for the value-driven consumer designed to conquer rough terrain without sacrificing the ride and comfort of an A/T tire, offering exceptional durability with aggressive styling, an optimized tread design provides the right solution for 4x4 owners on the road, in the snow or in any off-road environment.”
The R/T tire needs to perform at an off-road level comparable to the M/T tire, but really allow the consumer to experience on-road ride and noise comparable to a traditional A/T tire.
Chris Han, Kumho: A general definition for the R/T tires would be a quieter M/T product with better handling on the road.
John Wu, Maxxis: A tire with a void ratio somewhere between M/T and A/T.
Hans Dyhrman, Nokian: R/T tires provide maximum durability, stability and performance for the instances when pavement or asphalt is not an option. At Nokian Tyres, we build our products with safety, longevity and sustainability in mind. That same mind-set is still relevant when it comes to R/T tires, but in addition to that, we are always working to ensure all our tires are tailored to meet the expectations of the adventurous and fearless consumer.
Michael Cati, Omni United: Rugged-terrain tires are a combination of all-terrain and mud-terrain tires. They offer the driver good on-road handing, comfort and a quiet ride of an all-terrain tire while having the rugged off-road capabilities of a pure mud-terrain tire. This makes them the best of both worlds for drivers.
Chris Gomez, Toyo: Our Open Country R/T tires are meant to be a perfect solution for customers who want the aggressive looks and off-road performance of a mud-terrain tire but the on-road manners of an all-terrain tire. Toyo… and the Open Country R/T created this hybrid category years ago and today remains one of the strongest options for customers looking for the best of both worlds.
Fardad Niknam, Yokohama: Customers who are looking for tires in between A/T and M/T, where an all-terrain tire is not aggressive enough but they don’t want to compromise the noise that comes with M/T products. They also generally don’t want to pay the M/T price premium. MTD: Is the R/T segment growing?
Mathis, Atturo: We are seeing consistently strong growth in our Trail Blade X/T. In certain sizes, it now outsells the same pattern in an M/T. There are always new consumers and vehicle types being drawn into the segment. The range of vehicles now spreads from a Subaru Outback to a Cadillac Escalade.
We believe the hybrid pattern is the future of the off-road segment. Dealers who do not have a hybrid type tire in their offering, are missing a growing segment of the market.
Howlett, Falken: The R/T segment is definitely growing. Tire manufacturers continue to introduce these hybrid-type R/T products into the marketplace, and we see these new R/T tires on the road, but at the expense of all-terrain tires and mud-terrain tire sales, as the LT tire market is relatively flat.
Gode, Hankook: This segment appears to be following the same trend as the vehicle market, where we see increasing sales of SUVs and light trucks.
Wu, Maxxis: Our customers believe so, but whether it’s cannibalizing A/T and M/T sales from the same brand is up for debate.
Naval, Nitto: It’s difficult to provide empirical evidence that this new segment is growing within USTMA as it does not have a separate designation for these products. However, our sales number shows that our offering, the Ridge Grappler, is growing at an exponential rate and is becoming the flagship tire within our light truck segment offering. We also see other manufacturers introducing new products in the segment.
Dyhrman, Nokian: As consumers continue to spend an increase of their funds on vehicles, and the truck market continues to grow, it makes sense for the R/T segment to continue to flourish as well. Vehicles are a large investment, and more and more consumers are realizing the care necessary to maintain the longevity of them.
Cati, Omni United: Yes, this segment is growing in the U.S., and there are more rugged-terrain tires on the market with more expected to come. One of the reasons why this is getting popular is that drivers like to have an aggressive-looking tire and still like to enjoy the on-road benefits of their new vehicle.
Gomez, Toyo: The Open Country R/T has seen steady growth ever since its introduction to the marketplace. We believe that as customers’ knowledge of tire performance grows, the Open Country R/T is well positioned to achieve even further growth in the years to come.
Niknam, Yokohama: There is no recognized segment as R/T. However, customers are getting more interested in these kinds of in-between products because they will answer their aggressive taste with less compromise on noise.
MTD: Do you market an R/T tire line?
Mathis, Atturo: Atturo continues to build out the Trail Blade X/T range with more sizes being added on a regular basis.
Jamieson, Cooper: At the time of this writing, Cooper does not have an R/T product on the market, but as you can see by our responses, this is a category that we are quite engaged with and one where we are working to understand the consumer.
Howlett, Falken: Currently, Falken does not market an R/T line, but we took the approach with our WildPeak A/T3W all-terrain product offering to be nearly as rugged and capable as many of the R/T tires on the market. We are always evaluating new product concepts and will continue to evaluate the feasibility of an R/T tire in the WildPeak product line, but currently we see an R/T tire being a tight squeeze between our WildPeak A/T3W and our WildPeak M/T.
Gode, Hankook: We anticipate adding this to our lineup in the near future.
Han, Kumho: We do not currently offer in the market a product that was developed as an R/T segment product. Our Road Venture MT51 would fit best in this category, though, as it is what we consider a mild M/T... with a quieter ride and enhanced handling.
Wu, Maxxis: We don’t have an R/T line, but we are always evaluating potential segments.
Naval, Nitto: Our hybrid-terrain product is the Ridge Grappler. We are currently adding hard metric sizes to the line-up ranging from 17-inch to 22-inch rim diameters.
Dyhrman, Nokian: Although we do not have a specific R/T- designated line, we do offer the Nokian Rockproof. This product offers commercial grade durability for off-road enthusiasts and professional driving such as logging, mining and other outdoor professions.
In addition, we are always looking ahead to the next generation of tires and are constantly building upon and improving on our designs.
Cati, Omni United: Yes, Radar Tires has a recently launched its Renegade RT+ line that has over 27 SKUs with more expected to be launched in phases by early next year.
Gomez, Toyo: As far as the next-generation Open Country R/T we are always looking for ways to improve our existing products and ways to continue to innovate like we have done with the Open Country R/T.
Niknam, Yokohama: At Yokohama, we have created an X-version of our products to address in-between segment customers. X stands for “Xtra” or “Xtreme,” depending on the segments. The X-MT tire was developed to address customers with the need for extreme mud-terrain performance. Yokohama will introduce two new “X” products in 2019, which will cover the other in-between segmentation. MTD: What is the size range within the R/T segment? What is the most popular size?
Mathis, Atturo: Atturo currently offers 24 sizes in our Trail Blade X/T, mixed between hard metric, LT-rated and flotation sizes covering both OE and plus sizes.
The most popular size for us today is the 275/55R20 followed closely by 33x12.5R20. This is a perfect example of the versatility of the X/T pattern.
It can suit an OE replacement with a more capable and impressive tread, or be an upgrade for a lifted or leveled truck.
Howlett, Falken: The most popular size is undoubtedly 35x12.50R20LT. A few other popular sizes that are great candidates for an R/T-type tire are 35x12.50R17LT, LT305/55R20, LT285/65R18, LT285/55R20, 35x12.50R18LT, along with many LT295 and other modern high-flotation sizes.
I typically look at aftermarket tire sizes with no corresponding OE fitments when considering an R/T-type tire, because we know these consumers are modifying their vehicles, and changing to larger wheels and/or tires.
When there are significant sales in both A/T and M/T tire categories for a given tire size, and the rim size is that of a modern light-duty truck — at least 17 inches, but more frequently 18 inches and 20 inches, or even 22 inches-plus — we consider those tire sizes to be candidates for an R/T-type tire.
Stotsenburg, Kenda: Our size range is currently from 17 inches to 22 inches, although we are considering some traditional 16-inch sizes. The 17-inch sizes are very popular as OE replacement sizes. We are seeing strong growth from the plus sizes
Gode, Hankook: The R/T segment appears to follow the A/T segment, as both LT and P-metrics are available, yet some LT fitments are only found in the M/T segment.
Daval, Nitto: Nitto’s Ridge Grappler size lineup ranges from 30 inches to 38 inches in overall diameter with rim diameter ranging from 16 inches to 24 inches. The most popular size in the Ridge Grappler is the 35x12.50R20LT.
Cati, Omni United: Since rugged-terrain tires are a combination of all-terrain and mud-terrain tires, their size range is similar to the current all-terrain and mud-terrain offerings. The two most popular sizes are 33X12.50R20 and 35X12.50R20.
Gomez, Toyo: For industry segmenting purposes, the Open Country R/T fits into the mud-terrain segment, but when our dealers speak to customers about our tires, they very much consider it positioned between the Open Country M/T and the Open Country A/T II. The Open Country R/T has sizes ranging from a 15-inch flotation size in the 31X10.50R15 up to a 22-inch flotation size in the 37X13.50R22.
Niknam, Yokohama: Flotation sizes range between 35- to 40-inch and 17-inch rim to 24-inch.MTD: Is the Jeep Wrangler the “poster child” for the R/T market segment?
Mathis, Atturo: We believe the poster vehicle for the hybrid-terrain segment would be a vehicle such as the Chevy Tahoe. This is a vehicle that can use this type of tire as an OE alternative, lifted, leveled or even lowered. The adaptation of the hybrid tire on SUVs and beyond traditional lifted trucks is where the growth in units and profit opportunity for dealers will be found.
Jamieson, Cooper: The Jeep Wrangler is certainly a target vehicle for this kind of tire, but so is a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Ford Raptor, or a Chevy Colorado. This consumer is motivated by enhancing the look of their vehicle, perhaps retaining the on-road performance of their OE tires, but still having a great tire that can stand up to an occasional romp in the mud or a path over the rocks.
Howlett, Falken: The Jeep Wrangler, although a great R/T tire candidate, is not the poster child. The target R/T vehicle is lifted pickup trucks.
Gode, Hankook: That is a good assessment, although there are a few other vehicles that might also fall into that category.
Stotsenburg, Kenda: We literally have a Jeep Wrangler on a Kenda Klever R/T poster. However, lifted ½- ton and ¾-ton trucks are quickly gaining traction for the R/T segment.
Han, Kumho: I wouldn’t necessarily label the Wrangler as the “poster child,” as this type of tire can be appealing to light truck drivers as well. It would depend on the consumer and what he/she is looking for in performance and cosmetic features for their specific vehicle.
Wu, Maxxis: Yes, it is.
Naval, Nitto: We believe that the Jeep Wrangler, by default, is the poster child for many aftermarket off-road companies as it is arguably one of the most heavily modified four-wheel-drive vehicles today. However, our Ridge Grappler was developed targeting mainly the ½- to ¾-ton pickup trucks.
Dyhrman, Nokian: The R/T market is a niche market geared toward truck and outdoor enthusiasts. These consumers are fearless and always seeking adventure, typically in locations with demanding off-road spaces such as quarries, forests and mining areas.
These products are not high-volume, but rather a premium offering for those looking to get the best experiences out of their vehicles. Because of the Wrangler’s ability to pull in passionate drivers, it is definitely one of the most common vehicles for off-roading, making it a significant option for the R/T market. Owners of Wranglers typically keep this vehicle for years and are more willing to invest in upgrades and premium products to ensure the vehicle is up-to-date and ready to take on whatever unexpected and demanding challenges the driver throws at them.
Additionally, a large portion of the R/T market segment is occupied by full-size pickups that are usually used for professional purposes.
Cati, Omni United: Any vehicle that is able to go off-road or that has all-terrain or mud-terrain tires on them is a prime candidate for the rugged-terrain tire.
Gomez, Toyo: It almost impossible to pick just one vehicle as the typical Open Country R/T vehicle given it is such a strong option for several types of vehicles. We believe there is not just one target vehicle or customer for the Open Country R/T.
Customers can be the owner of a Jeep Wrangler, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, Toyota Tacoma, and the list goes on. We have even seen some off-road oriented Sprinter Van conversions with our Open Country R/T.
Niknam, Yokohama: No. The majority of our customers who are looking into this segment are coming from a truck background. ■
Who’s who of R/T tire responders
The following companies, in alphabetical order, responded to our request for in-depth information on the rugged-terrain, or hybrid-terrain, tire market.
- Michael Mathis, president, Atturo Tire Corp.
- Scott Jamieson, director of product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
- Drew Howlett, product manager, light truck and SUV tires, Falken Tire Corp., a subsidiary of Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc.
- Daniel Gode, product marketing associate, Hankook Tire America Corp.
- Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of the Automotive Division, American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.
- Chris Han, marketing manager, Kumho Tire USA Inc.
- John Wu, product manager, Maxxis International.
- Angelo Naval, senior director of product planning and business development, Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc.
- Hans Dyhrman, director of marketing for North America, Nokian Tyres Inc.
- Michael Cati, chief operating officer, Omni United USA, a subsidiary of Omni United (S) Pte. Ltd.
- Chris Gomez, product marketing manager, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.
- Fardad Niknam, senior director of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.
“This is not part of our lineup right now,” says Chris Brackin, vice president of sales for American Omni Trading Co. LLC. “And based upon our research, it will be something we (will take a look at) for late 2019 at best.”
Replacement overlap: R/T tire sizes are made up of A/T and M/T sizes
“There is a huge amount of crossover in sizes among the different LT tread types,” says Michael Mathis, president of Atturo Tire Corp.
Here are the top five aftermarket A/T and M/T tire fitments without original equipment fitments in the market.
A/T sizes/M/T sizes
The top five sizes of the two segments combined are 35x12.50R20LT, 35x12.50R17LT, LT305/55R20, LT285/65R18 and LT285/55R20.
Source: Modern Tire Dealer research