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M/T Tires are Having a Moment: Consumer Demand Is Blurring the Lines

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M/T Tires are Having a Moment: Consumer Demand Is Blurring the Lines

There are off-road warriors who never let their vehicles or mud-terrain tires touch pavement. There are others who like to occasionally play in the dirt, but need their fun vehicles to do double duty to go to work or school. And increasingly, there are drivers with lifted trucks and mean-looking tires who chase the aesthetic more than the lifestyle their vehicle portrays.

One thing these consumers have in common is they’re all shopping for M/T tires, and it’s clear tire manufacturers are hustling to respond to their demands.

Of the 19 tire manufacturers who responded to Modern Tire Dealer’s questions, 11 have introduced new M/T tires since 2015. And at least three more new M/T tires are expected to be unveiled in the next 24 months.

Nick Gutierrez, sales manager for Sentury Tire Americas, refers to it as a “flash flood.”

Chris deRosales, senior analyst with Falken Tire Corp., says the M/T tire segment amounts to about 13% of the light truck tire replacement market, with an estimated 4.25 million units in the U.S. “The segment is growing at the same pace as the A/T segment in growth percentage, up 1.1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the next six years. That equates to roughly a quarter million more units of M/T-type tires that will flow through the market.”

Andrew Hoit, vice president of sales and marketing for national brands at Tireco Inc., is among those who attribute the growth in-part to a strong economy. Vehicles with LT tire fitments are popular, and the evolution to larger diameter tires has helped fuel the market, too. “Hopefully the economic trends continue,” Hoit says.That uncertainty aside, MTD turned to the tire manufacturers to put the growth of M/T tires in perspective. We also asked tire makers if there’s an emerging gap in the market for a new niche, something akin to the “R/T” label, for rugged terrain, used by Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. Some see an opening, and opportunity, there. Others say it’s not new. And still others say the labeling is a bit out of the norm for the industry, and simply amounts to good marketing.

MTD: How fast is this segment growing, and how much focus is your company placing on this segment of the market?

Michael Mathis, president of Atturo Tire Corp.: The M/T market is still growing, but we believe it is nearing maturity. This is still an aftermarket niche, since there are no original equipment fitments using an M/T tread pattern.

Atturo is the only brand in the market which focuses exclusively on the SUV and light truck market, so we spend all of our efforts on understanding and addressing this segment.

Brandon Sturgis, product manager for BFGoodrich off-road tires, Michelin North America Inc.: Off-road performance has long been a focus for BFGoodrich. Several of our previous generation M/T tires have been tested in the toughest environments and have been marked as Baja champions, something we are proud of. It is an important market for us to be successful in.

Maurice King, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: The M/T segment has seen double-digit growth the last few years, and this particular segment has long been a major area of focus for Bridgestone. In fact, we’ve had products available in the M/T segment for more than 30 years. The M/T segment has evolved over that time period, particularly in terms of sizing, and we have focused on shaping our M/T portfolio to fit the changing demands of the segment.

Scott Jamieson, director of product management in North America for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: The M/T tire segment is continually evolving and growing, and Cooper has been part of this evolution. Cooper’s Discoverer line has provided tires for conquering muddy terrain for more than 30 years. The Discoverer’s legacy was built in this segment, and it will remain a strong focus for Cooper as we continue to meet the needs of our customers through innovative, high quality products.

Drew Howlett, product manager for light truck and SUV tires for Falken Tire Corp.: The growth in both the A/T and M/T categories is fueled by larger overall diameter aftermarket tires in general. Consumers are upgrading their vehicles with leveling kits for the front and full suspension kits now more than ever, and squeezing the largest tires they can within the limitations of the vehicle.

Lower aspect tire sizes with larger rim diameters such as 20 inches to 24 inches are also becoming a key driver of the market growth, with 35x12.50R20LT fueling more of the M/T market growth than any other tire size.

The traditional high aspect aftermarket sizes like 285/70R17LT and 35x12.50R17LT remain strong and a steady part of the M/T market as well.

The lines are being blurred by A/T and M/T tires. The overall market of larger diameter aftermarket tires with focus on rugged aesthetics is growing, whether it be an all-terrain tire, a mud-terrain tire, or something in between. We are putting tremendous focus on all of those market conditions.Barry Terzaken, light truck and SUV tire product manager in the Americas for Continental Tire the Americas LLC: The M/T segment has been key for General Tire for many years, not only with our products, but also with our sponsorship and support of the off-road racing community. The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) shows steady growth in the last 10 years, by about 1.5 million tires, and more growth in CAGR than all-terrain and highway-terrain tires.

Bob Toth, director of industry relations for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: Based on USTMA industry data, considering tires intended for fitment on non-commercial light truck-type vehicles, M/T-type tires represented 3.1% of the total in 2010, and 4.7% of the total in 2016. During this period, M/T volume increased 81.9%.

Goodyear offers products all along the light truck performance continuum, ranging from tires designed primarily for “on-road” applications at one end, tires designed with a combination of on- and off-road capabilities in the middle, and tires designed primarily for the more niche oriented, but fast growing “off-road” M/T applications at the other end. In terms of off-road performance Goodyear is very focused at offering one of the best performing M/T tire products available for this enthusiast segment, and our Wrangler MT/R with Kevlar does the job.

Yg Lee, product manager for Hankook Tire America Corp.: We expect the M/T market will steadily grow, as our research shows the market has increased by close to 6% over the last 10 years. Since the M/T market is heavily dependent on recreational vehicles, without any huge economic recession we believe the category will continue to grow at its current rate, which is a little faster than the other segments. We are certainly investing in M/T tires that will meet the rising demand.

Steven Liu, senior director of proprietary brands for American Tire Distributors Inc., which owns Hercules Tire & Rubber Co.: It’s definitely growing, but it’s evolving. Traditional hard-core enthusiasts are asking for more. They want something that will go to the extreme. We’re seeing larger outer diameter (OD) and rim diameters, aggressive shoulder lugs, higher load index and the like. Additionally, there is a growing population in the casual enthusiasts/bystanders that don’t want to invest heavily in vehicle upgrades. They are typically looking for OE fitments and just want to have some fun on something that’s quality driven and reliable. In other words, the value segment within this product category is growing.

While we are not focusing heavily on just M/T tires, we have been actively promoting our Terra Trac Traction Series, which encompasses three Hercules brand tires with off-road capabilities, the Terra Trac AT II, Terra Trac M/T and Terra Trac T/G Max. Consumers have specific tire needs based on the intended use for their vehicle, so we created the Traction Series to help the consumer better navigate the choices and put the dealer in a position to be an advisor and guide in the decision-making process.

Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of automotive for Kenda Tires USA: Kenda views the off-road market as breaking into three primary segments: avid off-roaders, work truck drivers, and aspirants. All are growing in the current environment with lower-priced gas and increased affordability of light truck vehicles. The Kenda Klever M/T has been a growing presence in all segments as a product that offers a significant value for the price point. We have continued to invest in sizing upgrades demanded by the consumer, particularly for the aspirant segment with 20-inch and 22-inch offerings. Having multiple wins and podiums while competing against more well-known brands in our motorsports program has reinforced the value for end-users.

Steve Bourassa, product director, Nokian Tyres North America Ltd.: Our $360 million dollar investment in the Tennessee plant is in part a response to the need for tires to fill the M/T, A/T and other categories that are nearly exclusive to North America.

Marcus Hancock, vice president of global technology for Omni United (S) Pte. Ltd.: With numerous new entrants and product constructions to the M/T segment in 2016, it would suggest that the segment is growing. There is a lot of LT and A/T growth, but it is difficult to say how fast the M/T segment really is growing. We will continue to place focus on this segment of the market while we see these growth patterns.

Nick Gutierrez, sales manager for Sentury Tire Americas: The market seems to have had a flash flood of M/T looking tires at a relatively inexpensive cost, driving sales for what seems to be an increase in the M/T segment. We don’t introduce tires in the market until we have extensive testing results and proven products, and we launched our Delinte and Landsail mud-terrain tires in mid-2016. We continue to grow our A/T, H/T, M/T and soon will have more than 48 SKUs in our LT segment.

Jon Vance, vice president of product marketing for TBC Brands LLC: While the overall numbers are modest compared to the total market, the M/T segment is a definite area of focus for TBC Brands.We have recognized that a very real opportunity exists in this segment of the market to provide products that offer a tremendous value proposition to both dealers and consumers. We’ve focused our product planning on delivering tires that give end users the performance, quality and look found in the best-in-class players in this segment, but at an affordable price point that drives dealer profitability and consumer value.

Hoit, Tireco: This segment is growing because the U.S. economy is strong and the LT segment vehicle sales are growing. Hopefully the economic trends continue.

There are certainly more tire manufacturers entering this segment than ever before. Tireco is placing a significant focus on this segment.

Andrew Briggs, senior director of tire business and product planning for Yokohama Tire Corp.: The segment has grown significantly in the last couple of years, but it’s still a relatively small percentage of the market.

We see the A/T and H/T segments as being roughly six to seven times that of M/T. However, that is not to say the segment is not important. It is a high-value category and one that can act as a halo for the rest of the light truck lineup.

This is similar to the effect that the ultra-high performance summer category can have on high performance and passenger lines. Recently, we have had a high level of focus on the M/T market and launched our new Geolandar M/T G003 on July 1. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. With the launch of the new M/T, we feel we have one of the newer light truck lineups in the industry.

Richard Li, marketing director for Zhongce Rubber Group Co. Ltd. (ZC Rubber): M/T tires is a niche segment. The segment is growing but not as fast as expected.

MTD: Is there a gap emerging for another category of off-road tires, perhaps something that fits between all-terrain (A/T) and M/T? Toyo has marketed a rugged terrain (R/T) tire that it says is an in-between tire.

Mathis, Atturo: Atturo was one of the first brands to answer the consumer demand for a tire with the appearance of an M/T, but the road manners of an A/T with the Trail Blade X/T. We launched this tire at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in 2014, winning a global media award for the design. Atturo leads this category with an innovative mix of metric, LT and floatation sizes to address the broadening market for this type of tire beyond the pickup. This type of tire is the future of the off road market. It is suitable for use on a wide variety of vehicles from a Jeep Cherokee to Land Rover, GMC Yukon to Subaru Outback.

Atturo is the only brand offering low profile 22-inch and 24-inch rim diameter sizes in this type of tread pattern. The Trail Blade X/T is the fastest growing model in our product range, and one of the most profitable for dealers due to the unique sizes not available in any other brand.

Sturgis, BFGoodrich: With the expanded performance of our all-terrain T/A KO2 to be even more off-road and snow capable than its previous generation, while maintaining good on-road manners, combined with the more extreme off-road and mud capabilities of our mud-terrain T/A KM2, we don’t see a performance gap in our lineup that would warrant another product in this area.

We pride ourselves on being able to deliver products with large performance envelopes, tackling a diverse range of conditions and consumer needs, thus requiring fewer products. This directly creates more value for our consumers, makes choosing the best product for their needs simpler, and allows dealer stocking to be easier.

We know our consumer values the true off-road performance in these categories and is less likely to gravitate toward a tire that has the appearance of an off-road tire but not the capabilities.

King, Bridgestone: Every manufacturer has a different strategy for how they approach any gaps or opportunities in the market. At Bridgestone, we continually monitor the market to ensure we are always meeting the needs of consumers and capitalizing on emerging trends. We are seeing an ongoing shift in the A/T segment that is driven by consumer preference and demand. A/T tires have evolved to feature more aggressive aesthetics in the tread and off-shoulder areas of the tire. At Bridgestone, we currently offer all-terrain tires that combine an aggressive aesthetic, off-road capability and ride comfort with our Bridgestone Dueler A/T Revo 2 tire and our Firestone Destination A/T tire.

Jamieson, Cooper: There is a segment of consumers that wants a tire that offers the aesthetic attributes synonymous with the M/T segment, such as enhanced buttresses, combined with the on-road manners of an A/T tire. Cooper continually strives to offer products that meet the needs of consumers.Howlett, Falken: There’s not really a gap emerging for a new category of off-road tires, there’s an opportunity for differentiation. There’s a wide spectrum of product offerings across many industries, the tire industry is no different. There are M/T tires, there are hybrid M/T-A/T tires, there are severe snow rated A/T tires; the list goes on. However, the tire industry is different in the sense that tire manufacturers tend to stick to the traditional light truck category naming H/T, A/T, and M/T, despite all of the actual product variations offered within those categories. Toyo and Nitto are not creating a revolutionary category; they just aren’t adhering to the conventional tire industry naming.

Terzaken, General: Although the Grabber X3 is a traditional mud-terrain tire in terms of off-road capability, we have incorporated state-of-the-art engineering and design principles to deliver a more quiet, comfortable ride. We realize there are a lot of customers who want an aggressive look, without the traditional trade-offs of a very noisy, uncomfortable tire.

Toth, Goodyear: The gap you reference emerged several years ago, as the popularity of light trucks skyrocketed and consumers asked for a tire with the looks of an extreme off-road tire, with good off-road capability, but it also must have good on-road manners. In response, Goodyear launched our Wrangler DuraTrac in 2009, offering up a great combination of performance for tough off-road terrain and snow, while still delivering a comfortable on-road experience. The tire also features a rugged off-road appearance. Some of our customers have suggested this product created the “hybrid” market segment, slipping in between typical A/T-type tires and M/T extreme tires on the performance continuum.

Lee, Hankook: We are always analyzing market trends so we can be on the forefront of innovation. While we can’t go into detail about specific plans, we have certainly noticed that emerging market and are eager to meet its needs.

Liu, Hercules: The “tweener” market is going strong, and it comes down to the simple fact that it is not as intimidating as the M/T. A “tweener” tire offers a great alternative — a user can have a lot of fun with it without the drawbacks of an A/T (some off-road limitations) or M/T (mileage expectations and ride quality).

Our Terra Trac T/G Max is a “tweener” that offers off-road traction and mileage. However, the T/G Max is also a purpose-built tire that focuses on commercial traction — which you will see reflected in the sizes and fitments, the deep tread, and a cut-and-chip resistant compound that can handle work site and farm field hazards.

Stotsenburg, Kenda: Traditional A/T tires have been trending toward more on-road applications, featuring lower noise and frequently 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 will be introducing a new Kenda Klever product targeted specifically at this segment in late 2017 for the North American consumer.

Bourassa, Nokian: There is a market for a variety of tread patterns, including a pattern between A/T and M/T. Tire makers continue to diversify light truck offerings to fill the individual needs of consumers. Once Nokian has an established manufacturing facility in North America, we will be able to further develop our light truck product line and will certainly consider a variety of new potential patterns.

Hancock, Omni United: We do see a gap emerging for this new category called “rugged terrain.” This is a hybrid of a mud-terrain and an all-terrain tire. The shoulders and outer blocks are typically aggressive and give great off-road traction like a mud-terrain tire while the center is more closed to offer a quiet and more refined ride like an all-terrain tire. Our development team is currently working on a rugged-terrain tire range for launch sometime in the future.

Gutierrez, Sentury: Whether in the city or outside the city when it comes to Jeeps, trucks and SUVs an M/T tread pattern always compliments the vehicle. If you can have the best of both worlds looking aggressive and with an A/T ride I would say yes there’s room for expansion. We are developing our “rough terrain” pattern, with details to follow at the SEMA Show.

Vance, TBC: There is definitely an emerging new category of traction tires occupying the space between traditional A/T designs and higher void M/T lines. Whether it’s called R/T, C/T, on-off road traction or aggressive A/T, the target audience is the same; customers seeking an enhanced level of all surface performance and aggressive aesthetic design appeal, but also requiring on-road performance that allows for better ride comfort and wear than you would expect from a true M/T tire. In recognition of this market demand, in 2016 TBC introduced the Wild Trail CTX line as an expansion of our Wild Trail family of value SUV/LT products.Hoit, Tireco: Yes, as you pointed out, Toyo and Nitto have their product. Goodyear was actually the first to go there with their Wrangler Duratrac, but they didn’t seem to market it as well as Toyo and Nitto are doing today. I predict you will see more tire manufacturers entering the segment very soon.

Jay Jones, on behalf of Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: Toyo Tires introduced the Toyo Open Country R/T in September 2014. Toyo uses the phrase “off-road performance meets on-road comfort” to describe this tire. Its ability to tackle dirt, sand and rocks is inspired by the Open Country M/T, while its quieter ride is a nod to Toyo’s best-selling Open Country A/T II.

Briggs, Yokohama: I wouldn’t say that there is a gap that is emerging, but we do see market demand for something less niche than an M/T, but more aggressive than an A/T.

Li, ZC Rubber: In ZC Rubber’s product portfolio, the tire application is classified as follows: H/T: 90% paved road and 10% unpaved; A/T: 70% paved and 30% unpaved; M/T: 50% paved and 50% unpaved; and Extreme M/T: 20% paved and 80% unpaved.

It is possible to introduce more products to focus on more specific demands, but considering the market sizes and production efficiency, ZC Rubber believes the above four categories will be good enough for today’s market.    ■

This is the first of a two-part story on M/T tires. Look for the next installment, including a roundup of all the latest products on the market, this fall.

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