Warming up: As winter ends, snow tire orders begin
There were more than 10 million snow tires shipped in North America in 2004, an 18.4% increase over the previous year. That followed a 7% increase in 2003 vs. 2002.
In the United States, 4.2 million snow tires were shipped last year, up from 3.6 million, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association. "There's no question that the snow tire market is growing in the U.S.," says Riccardo Cichi, vice president of sales and marketing for Pirelli Tire North America Inc.
Ironically, as winter and snow fade away, a significant number of snow tires for the next season are being ordered.
Tire-Rama Inc., a 26-store retailer based in Billings, Mont., orders all of its snow tires at the same time, usually in the second or third quarter, "depending on the incentives tied to the purchase," says President Dave Wehr.
Tire Wholesalers Co. Inc., based in Troy, Mich., orders its snow tires in May for October delivery. "Offering terms helps to move them out," says President Ross Kogel.
That matches up well with tire manufacturing schedules. "We'll probably put our winter tire early-order program out (for the 2005-2006 season) in the April timeframe," says Bob Toth, marketing manager, Goodyear auto tires, for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
Since the introduction of the Bridgestone Blizzak in 1986, snow tires have received their fair share of publicity in the aftermarket. Even Consumer Reports compares snow tires. The latest tires in the Blizzak family are the Blizzak DMZ3 and WS-50, introduced last October.
Blizzak is part of Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC's new mass-reach advertising campaign featuring the Bridgestone brand.
All the major domestic tire manufacturers market snow tires, most with application-appropriate names. Here's a quick look at the latest in aftermarket snow (and in some cases ice) tires.
Continental Tire North America Inc.: ContinentalWinterContact.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: Cooper Weather-Master S/T 2 and Mastercraft Glacier-Grip.
Michelin North America Inc.: Michelin Arctic Alpin and X-Ice.
Goodyear: Ultra Grip and Ultra Grip Ice; Dunlop Graspic.
Yokohama Tire Corp.: AVS Winter and AVS Winter V901.
Snow tire importers also are making inroads in the U.S. They include Hankook Tire America Corp. (Icebear W300 and Winter Radial W404), Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc. (I'Zen Stud KW 11), and Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp. (Observe Studless Winter).
Three brands known worldwide for their snow tire performance are Gislaved, Nokian and Vredestein.
Independent Tire Sales (ITS) is the exclusive U.S. distributor of the Gislaved line, manufactured by Continental AG. The new Gislaved Nordfrost 3 is the third-generation Nordfrost, says Mike LaHood, vice president of sales for ITS. "It has a directional tread pattern for the first time. And it is studdable, which seems to be a dying breed." The Gislaved version of the studless tire is the SoftFrost.
Nokian Tyres Inc.'s latest snow tire is the Hakkapeliitta RSI, "a completely studless tire that stands for rain, snow and ice," says Sales and Marketing Coordinator Kristen Hiter. It features redesigned lug siping based on Nokian's patented "Shark Tooth Brake Booster" technology.
Vredestein Tyres North America Inc. unveiled the V- and W-rated Vredestein Wintrac Xtreme line last fall. (See "Ramping up in North America: Vredestein wants more brand recognition," MTD, March 2005 issue).
Green Diamond Tire of New York, a relative newcomer to the snow tire game, markets Green Diamond Icelander remolded products manufactured in Elmira, N.Y. The remolded tires contain carbine granules in the tread.
In general, the wider the tire, the lesser the snow penetration. So there is sometimes a need to replace high and ultra-high performance tires with smaller snow tires.
"You've got a lot of bread-and-butter vehicles that are coming on some pretty exotic-size tires," says Toth. The larger sizes tend to climb on top of the snow. "You need penetration."
As high performance tires become the standard, he sees more growth in snow tire sales. The owner who purchases the BMW 7 Series with the 18-inch tire package may have to revert back to the base size, 225/60R16, when winter weather hits, according to Toth.
Based on demand in Canada, Goodyear is coming out with a size 245/55R17 snow tire to fit the Chrysler 300C, which is fitted with 215/65R17 tires. The Chrysler 300C also has optional 18- and 20-inch tire/wheel packages.
If the owner doesn't want to change the tire size, there are plenty of options, thanks to advancing snow tire technology.
Pirelli's Winter Sottozero (for "below zero") is available in both H- and V-rated versions. It is original equipment on the Lamborghini Gallardo.
The Winter Sottozero also features run-flat technology, according to Cichi. Some Pirelli Snowsport tires incorporate run-flat technology into their design as well. Goodyear also has a run-flat winter tire, the Eagle Ultra-Grip GW3 EMT.
There's also a growing demand for SUV and light truck snow tires. But that's another story.