As the light truck tire market evolves, expect to see the continuation of two trends, according to tire manufacturers: more P-metric tires coming on pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and crossover vehicles that are leaving the assembly line, and bigger P-metric tires on those vehicles.
“LT metric for original equipment is pretty flat right now,” says Gary Enterline, senior product manager, light trucks, for Michelin North America Inc. “P-metric is growing.”
“P-metric tires are growing faster than LT — anywhere from 7% to 17% over the last several years,” says Rick Brennan, vice president of marketing for Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.
The proliferation of P-metric tires and sizes is a good thing for independent tire dealers, according to Brennan. “When the customer pulls in, you have a lot of things you can put on his vehicle.”
That means with a little bit of salesmanship, dealers can steer the average pickup truck, SUV or crossover owner toward the tire they want to sell. “You can move in a bunch of different ways based on what you have in stock,” says Brennan.
There are a number of reasons why more pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers will sport P-metric tires.
1. Cost and fuel savings. According to John Pecoraro, manager of product marketing for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., P-metric tires “are less expensive, which is first and foremost at the vehicle manufacturer level.
“They also tend to be lighter and make it easier (to achieve) fuel economy standards.”
“If you take a look at it from an OEM perspective, they break things down to the price of a tire per pound,” says Dan Wheeler, director of dealer programs for Hankook Tire America Corp.
2. Vehicle usage. As in the past, “consumers are using SUVs to make their daily commutes,” says Melissa Montisano, general marketing manager for Goodyear light truck/SUV tires., Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “These vehicles are used solely as safety vehicles that transport people back and forth. They are usually not needed for load carrying capacity or to leverage the vehicle in other applications.”
3. More crossover vehicles. The entry of more crossover vehicles into the market, as well as more crossover vehicle permutations, will keep P-metric demand at high levels, according to Kumho’ s Brennan. But with that, he says, comes the need to qualify crossover vehicle owners when they come in to have their OE tires replaced.
“Some (crossover vehicles) are riding on a passenger tire with a passenger tire tread design and a passenger tire name. Some are coming on a passenger tire with a light truck tire name. When that vehicle pulls in, qualifying the owner becomes important. Ride comfort, noise and handling are the three factors you want to focus on.
“How does the vehicle owner drive? If he uses his crossover like a traditional SUV, he may do a little off-roading, a little gravel road driving, and he may not want a true passenger tire tread design. But if he just uses it as a grocery-getter, he may want a tire with longer mileage, more comfort and less noise.”
At OE, the most prevalent P-metric size is P265/70R17, says Michelin’s Enterline. “Ford brought out the P265/70R17 on the 2007 F150 pickup. That lit the fuse and it has exploded from there.”
The most popular P-metric replacement sizes for light trucks are P265/70R17 and P265/70R16, which are “nip and tuck” for first place, says Cooper’s Pecoraro.
“We still have some 15-inch sizes out there, but they’re remnant sizes. There are already 20-inch sizes; the P275/55R20 is gaining in popularity, but it’s still way down the list.
“There are distinct divisions between large SUVs and pickups like the Ford F-150 and smaller ones represented by the Ford Ranger and Ford Explorer, for example... and then you get into even smaller ones like the Ford Escape.
“A size’s popularity depends on each segment. When you get into smaller SUVs, the P215/70R16 is very popular; that fits some of your smaller models like the Toyota RAV4.”
Overall, the 20 most popular P-metric sizes cover a large percentage of the industry — more than 69%, according to Goodyear research. The trend toward large size diameters “is driven by the OEMs,” says Montisano.
Maxxis International — USA predicts “steady growth with more aspect ratio offerings in 17- and 18-inch,” says Doug Addis, Maxxis territory sales manager, in “the shorter term.”
From P to LT?
Tiremakers agree that most pickup truck, SUV or crossover vehicle owners who are riding on P-metric tires will choose to replace them with P-metrics. That’s if they even know what a P-metric tire is and how it differs from an LT tire. “The average customer rarely understands the difference,” says Montisano.
Is there any benefit in switching from a P-metric tire to an LT tire? Only if there are plans to operate the vehicle in especially rugged conditions. “If you need an LT tire, chances are you need a heavier-duty vehicle,” says Cooper’s Pecoraro. “Instead of buying a half-ton, you should have bought a three quarter-ton. Then with that you get (into) heavy-duty wheels, heavy-duty suspension components and all of that, which goes in combination with LT tires.
“If you’re a contractor and you only have a half-ton truck that’s heavily loaded and you go to job sites and have a lot of impact breaks, an LT tire would be a better fit because it has a heavier carcass.”
LT tires tend to carry vehicles better in adverse conditions due to their construction, he says. “Treads tend to be deeper, beads are bigger and the sidewalls are beefier.” But for most people, “there’s not a lot of benefit moving from a P-metric.”
Once again, it’s a trend that’s driven by the OEMs, says Wheeler. "When SUVs started to become a factor, they were converted commercial-type vehicles or work trucks. Then the Chevy Suburban and Blazer got popular and OEMs started designing SUVs for ride and appearance more than utility.”
If you decide a switch to an LT tire is in order, you need to consider factors like wheel clearance and load. This particularly applies to plus-sizing, says Enterline. “You have a much larger rotating mass when you start plus-sizing. If you don’t have adequate brakes, you will notice it. You’ll need to apply more pedal pressure.”
There are other trade-offs, like ride comfort. “A lot of people plus-size for aesthetics,” explains Enterline.
“But the thing you have to watch out for is comfort. You’re going to give up a little bit of comfort.”
For most drivers, the advantage of switching to LT simply “may not be there,” according to Kumho’s Brennan.