A number of other tire manufacturers and marketers have added to their winter tire line-ups.
Hankook Tire America Corp. has added six new sizes to its Ice Bear W300 line, including 215/60R16, 235/60R17, 275/35R18 and 245/40R18. Hankook also is taking orders for a new studdable winter tire, the I*pike RW11, which is available in eight 18-inch sizes and three 20-inch sizes.
Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. has added size 225/60R18, a popular Dodge/Chrysler fitment, to its Avalanche X-Treme passenger tire line, which consists of nearly 40 sizes. (Hercules’ winter tire sales in the U.S. have been “steadily increasing,” says Hercules Vice President of Marketing Josh Simpson, with huge growth in Canada. Winter tires make up 25% to 28% of the 650,000 or so passenger and light truck tires that Hercules sells in Canada each year.)
Nokian Tyres Inc. introduced the Hakkapeliitta 5 and Hakkapeliitta 5 SUV winter tires in the past year and is gearing up to roll out the Hakkapeliitta R and Hakkapeliitta R SUV studless winter tires this year. “A major trend in the marketplace is the increased popularity of wider tires with lower aspect ratios and higher rim diameters,” says John Fitzgerald, Nokian regional manager. “We’ve added many sizes in our existing lines to accommodate this demand.”
Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. has been particularly active. It added three key sizes (255/60R17, 275/55R19 and 265/50R19)to its Open Country G02 Plus light truck winter tire line, as well as seven sizes to its Observe G02 Plus passenger line, three sizes to its Snowprox S952 passenger line and two sizes to its Garit KX passenger tire line.
Treadways Corp. also added sizes during the past year. (Treadways sells the Tempra Winter Quest and Snowblazer passenger and SUV lines, in addition to the Trailcutter M&S, which is a light truck tire offering.)
Vredestein Tyres North America Inc. added sizes to its Wintrac Xtreme (in the 18-, 19- and 20-inch range) and Wintrac 4 Xtreme (in the 19- and 20-inch range) lines. It also rolled out a run-flat version of the Wintrac Xtreme.
Yokohama Tire Corp. introduced three new winter tires in 2007. They include the iceGUARD IG20, which is for standard passenger cars; the W.drive, which is for entry level luxury to some luxury SUV fitments; and the Geolandar i/T G072, which is for traditional light truck, crossover vehicle and SUV fitments. “We’re going to continue with these (tires) and will try to expand sizes this year,” says Robert Abram, product planning manager for Yokohama.
Looking ahead, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC will add sizes to its Blizzak W60 and LM25 tires during the year. It also is adding a handful of run-flat Blizzak sizes for high-end vehicle fitments.
Meanwhile, Sentaida International/ZT Wholesale will add a snow tire tread pattern to its Lexani performance tire line. “This model will be available from 14 inches through 17 inches,” say ZT Wholesale officials. Sentaida/ZT Wholesale also will roll out a winter tire for its “value-oriented” DiamondBack brand, available in 19 sizes.
Not to be outdone, TBC Corp. will add five new 17-inch sizes. (TBC Private Brands President Gary Paulson adds that TBC’s Arctic Claw TXI and XSI winter tire lines currently offer 64 SKUs.) Treadways, which is owned by TBC, will add the following sizes this year: 215/60R17, 215/65R17 and 225/60R17.
Science and sales
Dealers should educate customers that today’s winter tires are much more sophisticated than yesterday’s “snow tires,” says Mark Kuykendall, engineering manager, Bridgestone brand passenger/light truck tires, BFNT.
“When people say ‘snow tire,’ I think they’re thinking back to the old days when (winter tires) had really aggressive, knobby tread patterns to dig through the snow. Those old tires could dig through deep snow but weren’t so great on ice. A proper winter tire is designed for all of those different (winter) conditions.”
In fact, it’s much more challenging to perform well on ice than in snow, says Steve Hutchinson, director of marketing for Toyo. Ice melts when warm tires hit it, which creates a potentially more treacherous surface than frozen water.
“It’s like taking an ice cube out of the freezer and setting it down on the counter,” explains Hutchinson. “That’s when you have trouble handling it. When the new breed of winter tires came out a few years ago, it was ice traction that had to be significantly improved. Snow traction isn’t the hardest issue to overcome.”
Winter tires have become much more application-specific as well, says Dan Wheeler, director of dealer programs for Hankook.
Decades ago, “there were one or two tread designs for the same tire. Now we look at specific vehicle applications. Some people need more than a broad-line (winter) tire.”
However, one aspect of selling winter tires that will remain a difficult proposition is forecasting orders.
“North American manufacturers only want to manufacture winter tires once,” says Rob Keller, president of Hercules Canada. “And that’s probably the case globally. Forecasting is not an exact science. You get to make one commitment and you have to do that by mid-April.”
“We’re in a unique situation,” says Toyo’s Hutchinson. “We’re up against a production wall as far as capacity for winter tires.” (Toyo sources all of its winter tires from parent company Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd. in Japan.) “As a result, every winter tire we sell means we sell one less of something else.”
His advice to dealers who are placing orders for winter tires is to “watch for new size applications. As size proliferation has continued, winter tires have been a little slow to keep pace. You want to make sure you cover as many of the popular sizes as you can.”
Treadways President Lyle Symonds jokes that “short of referring to The Farmer’s Almanac for the weather report, (winter tire ordering) becomes an educated guess. I think the best rule of thumb is the individual dealer’s own experience. The astute dealer will analyze his inventory carry-over (from the previous season) and make a judgment call on what he thinks the weather is going to be next season. Sometimes you guess right, sometimes not.
“I would like to think there is some science that can be applied,” he continues, “but since sell-out is so dependent on the weather, it’s closer to a ‘seat of the pants’ decision.”
When selling winter tires, the most important benefit to promote is safety, says Nokian Tyres President Bernie Del Duca.
“Over 80% of all winter accidents are caused by a loss of lateral control. This is the number one cause of traffic fatalities worldwide. Good winter tires are the best defense against the loss of lateral control.”