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High Performance Tires are Being Forced Out of Their Niche

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High Performance Tires are Being Forced Out of Their Niche

The broad market segment has been in flux for years, and will remain so as OE manufacturers demand more performance from tires intended for their sedans and everyday vehicles

There doesn’t seem to be many T- or S-rated tires at the OE level anymore. The growing number of broad market passenger cars equipped with high performance tires raises the question: Is there a high performance tire market anymore?

Modern Tire Dealer went to tire manufacturers, marketers and distributors to find out.

First we asked for their definition of a high performance tire. Then we asked if the evolution of tire technology had turned HP tires into the new broad market tire. Here are their responses in alphabetical order by company, beginning with American Tire Distributors, owner of the Hercules brand.

Steven Liu, American Tire Distributors: There are different ways to look at this, but for the most part, many broad market tires are now considered part of the high performance market. The reasons are the push by OE vehicles (higher speed rating and larger rim diameter) and demands from consumers for higher performance attributes. So there’s really a bottom-up push for higher performance from consumers, while also seeing a top-down push by car/tire manufacturers as newer technologies are implemented down to the next level.

In addition, fewer tire manufacturers these days are advertising the product lines as HP given the enhancements and business growth in the UHP segment. That’s really impacted the traditional HP segments.

Brad Robison, Bridgestone: At Bridgestone, we think of high performance tires differently than ultra-high performance tires. With high performance tires, we focus on steering responsiveness and spirited driving, combined with traditional attributes like all-season capability and mileage warranties. This is very different than a touring tire that prioritizes long tread wear and a comfortable, quiet ride.

We believe the high performance tire market has shrunk over the years, as many vehicles are coming equipped with touring tires featuring higher speed ratings. With that said, we still believe there is a market for drivers looking for a more performance-oriented tire for their vehicle.Bob Liu, Continental: Traditionally, most in the industry defined high performance tires based on speed symbols H and V. Over the past several years there has been a significant shift of touring vehicles from S- and T-rated tires to H- and V-rated tires. H- and V-rated tires today are mainly for touring applications, not the traditional high performance application.

For the Continental brand, we have two different replacement products for passenger tires in the touring segment. TrueContact, which covers speed symbols T, H and V, and PureContact, which covers speed symbols H and V.

Although both products are intended for the all-season touring consumer, the TrueContact leans more toward tread life and fuel efficiency, while the PureContact leans more toward sport performance with fuel efficiency. For the performance-oriented consumer, we have the all-season ExtremeContact DWS06 and summer ExtremeContact DW.

Scott Jamieson, Cooper: The definition of a high performance tire is one that has design attributes that focus on traction and precise handling characteristics. Particularly in the all-season high performance category, the traction performance has to take into account changing conditions throughout the seasons such as rain, heat and light snow.

The UHP category is defined as performance tires that are W-rated and above. There is, however, an emerging category of ultra touring tires which are W-rated tires but with a focus on mileage and touring comfort. In fact, this segment is the fastest growing segment in the industry, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).

Many new products have been introduced in the UHP category over the past 18 months, and the Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 is Cooper’s latest entry in the segment. By 2020, this segment is projected to be approximately the same size as the light truck segment. The new broad-line segment is H-rated. This is primarily driven by OE fitment trends.Mike Park, Falken: In the past, an HP tire was defined as H-rated tires with aspect ratios 70 series or lower and a UHP tire was defined as V-rated and higher. Today’s definition of what is HP and UHP is about the tire’s performance.

What’s morphing the change in definition is the OE vehicles that are equipped with higher speed-rated tires but don’t necessarily require the actual HP or UHP. Evolution of the vehicle and its performance is changing the way HP and UHP are perceived in the market.

For example, a 2017 Toyota Camry may have higher horsepower and require better traction than a late generation BMW M3. This kind of change leads to HP type performance being the norm for a sedan and higher performance (UHP) required for the new M3s.

Park says in essence, there is definitely a cross-over or a gray area among the broad-line, HP and UHP segments in the market.

“OE vehicles of today are equipped with lower aspect ratio, larger rim diameter and higher speed-rated tires. Performance tires are becoming the standard, and consumers expect strong all-season traction.”

David Shelton, Giti: Yes, the HP segment, at least speed- rating wise, has moved, for the more current vehicles, to a larger segment with S and T relegated to older vehicles with smaller diameter and taller aspect ratio tires.

It appears that the market has shifted from S and T as a standard to the H (high performance) product on the standard passenger cars and CUVs, and a T rating as a standard on the SUV and light truck vehicles. Most of the mid-size and larger (more powerful) CUVs are coming equipped with H- or even V-/Z-rated tires as OE.

The expectations for the vehicles today are the tire/vehicle performance is a key factor for the vehicle. To have the security, or feeling of security, the high performance tires are expected to provide the crisp go, stop, and turn capabilities, in all kinds of weather, so the driver and occupants cannot only feel secure and safe, but also have greater grip, handling, and control.

Mike Pulte, Goodyear: Simply put, a high performance tire is a tire that focuses more on handling, grip, steering precision and feel than the average tire out there. Speed rating is just one of the attributes typically associated with performance tires. In the past, it was a convenient (perhaps too simplistic) way to segment tires into this category, but today that method does not necessarily segment correctly.

Broad market tires have increased in their speed capability over the years, and many sizes now available in the “broad market” tires were once only reserved for performance vehicles, but high performance tires still stand on their own as a category of tires based on their optimal handling, enhanced grip, responsive steering and feedback to the driver.

Admittedly, the line between performance and broad market gets blurry as you get toward the touring subcategory of tires, but this is a result of market demand for a tire tailored to finer and finer levels of consumers’ driving style.Tire classifications are not as simple as high performance and broad market classifications, as we now have track tires, ultra-high performance three-season tires, ultra-high performance all-season tires, sport performance tires, etc. All of the choices now available are great for consumers. We can get them on a set of tires that is just right for their drive style and environment, but this does place more importance on the tire retailer understanding consumers’ needs so they can make the proper recommendation.

Young Gi Lee, Hankook: The high performance tire and broad market tire segments had been quite differentiated. However, most of the cars produced today are built to carry high performance tires. As a result, (HP) tires have become less of a niche segment and more of a broad market segment.

In the past, T- or S-rated tires were used for different vehicle categories, but now cars are geared toward HP tires as vehicle manufacturers are looking for tires that can match the performance and capabilities of faster cars. Again, as the quality of cars continues to get better, the demand for UHP tires continues to increase.

Kellie Szczerbacki, Kenda: HP is anything 60 series and over with an H, T or S rating, UHP is anything under 60 series with V, Z or W. And we still feel it is a niche market for HP as we still sell S, T and H tires.

Jim Mayfield, Kumho: High performance tires nowadays seem to cover a broader spectrum. With the development of higher technology, HP can pretty much be summed up by tires with speed ratings V and under, normally with higher mileage and winter traction capabilities compared to UHP units.

The broad-line market of the past has been and will continue to develop into the HP segment due to the strong push from the OE market.

Vehicle manufacturers are continuously making the move to higher-inch fitments and speed ratings. Also, HP units will become the new broad-line when these new vehicles are due for tire replacements to meet the OE standards. The current broad-line segment, which consists of lower speed ratings and higher aspect ratios, will continue to decline once older vehicles start to reach their life cycles.

John Wu, Maxxis: Our current definition of HP involves more than just speed rating. From our perspective, HP tires in the traditional sense (S, T and even H) have been merged into the broad-line summer touring category. The driving force has been the auto manufacturers. Cars once came with lower speed ratings so there was a clear gap (at) OE between HP and UHP. Now you’ll have to look pretty hard to find S- and T-rated OE fitments. Our current HP products overseas may be W-rated, but the performance is geared more towards wet traction, noise and ride comfort when compared to UHP all-season or UHP summer tires.Kevin Reim, Michelin (BFGoodrich brand): Speed rating helps define HP and UHP tires, but it’s more than that. It’s designed for higher level performance of grip, handling, braking and cornering more than a standard tire. It is designed for drivers who demand more performance.

Often the evolution is largely driven by the original equipment vehicle manufacturers. As the development of the automobile shifts deeper into the performance range, there is a need for a higher performing tire, which requires some additional engineering and quality of construction.

Today H- and V-speed rated tires are still performance tires. Beyond that you get into ultra-high performance tires which are Z-rated, having W, Y and (Y) speed ratings associated with them.

It used to be that V-speed rated tires were considered high performance tires. (V was the highest speed rating at that time.) Now the perception has shifted. It’s similar to how vehicles with 200+ hp used to be categorized as high performance cars. Now a standard family sedan has more than 200 hp under the hood. As tire technology evolved, they began to move above V-rated tires. So the Z-rated category came into existence with W, Y and (Y) speed ratings.

Tire development followed the evolution of the car. Manufacturers have designed their vehicles with increasing performance capabilities requiring higher performing tires, thus the need for higher speed-rated tires.

But it’s not just a number. Higher speed-rated tires are often built to a more stringent specification in order to manage cycling, heat generation, and braking and cornering demands that high performance cars require and consumers with spirited driving styles desire.

V-rated tire technology has improved over time to get higher mileage and improved comfort as well as the normal characteristics you’d expect in a performance tire. They are considered more broad-line or possibly “performance touring” oriented by today’s standards. And we are seeing that progression to improve longevity and comfort slowly bleed into higher rated tires. The growth is in the H and V segments; beyond that you get into ultra-high performance.

Sabrina Clement, Michelin: OEMs are more demanding in terms of performances beyond the speed index. The high performance market stays primarily dominant on highest speed indexes, but it is really defined by the level of performance expected from consumers or OEMs, especially for handling and dry/wet braking, and a key expectation on getting the full potential out of the car.Steve Bourassa, Nokian: High performance tires are typically identified by their speed rating. In general terms, performance and high performance can be identified by H and V speed ratings, while UHP is typically W and Y speed ratings. That said, there are many touring and even some broad market products that fall into the performance or high performance categories, unlike what was typically on the market 10 years ago.

From Nokian Tyres for instance, eNtyre 2.0 covers broad market and performance touring applications, while the new zLine A/S will cover UHP all-season applications.

Marcus Hancock, Omni-United: Very simply, a high performance tire is one designed to give good, safe operation when fitted to a high performance vehicle. The proliferation of high performance tires is in correlation with the improvements in handling, speed and safety of modern vehicles.

Many vehicles are now capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph, and therefore their braking systems have improved, along with suspension and power output and efficiency of the engine. These vehicles need tires that can cope with these demands, and high performance tires are becoming the norm from H-rated sport touring tires through to Y-speed-rated ultra-high performance tires, including run-flat. Even SUVs (are fitted with) UHP tires with very large rim diameters and wide section widths.

Larger rim diameters allow for larger disc brakes to be fitted. Wider tires allow for improved handling and load carrying capacity. Speed ratings have increased to match the theoretical top speeds of the vehicle. This has also led to tires that are quieter, grip better in wet and winter conditions and give comfort and stability on highway use.

Stefania Masciullo, Pirelli: HP tires are mostly dedicated to cars’ premium segment. Premium brands in this segment offer a high level of performance, comfort, safety and terrific driving experience.

Pirelli product strategy is basically oriented to the premium as well as prestige segment, on which prestige UHP tires are generally the best solution.

New targets and new vehicle evolutions, as well as new technologies and legal requirements, are raising the technological content in the HP tires segment, reducing trade-off in performances to guarantee always the best combination in terms of safety, comfort, and quality in the driving experience

Jon Vance, TBC Brands: The traditional definitions and attributes relative to what you should expect from a certain speed rating have been blurred to the point of irrelevance. I look at the market now by application and driver expectations, not by speed ratings or even traditional segments.

Whether a tire is H-, V- or W-rated, the type of vehicle the tire is fitted on and the preferred performance characteristics of the driver are really what drive the choice of tires at replacement.

There are V- and W-rated tires, for instance, tuned more for touring tire type ride comfort and even wear and carry tread wear warranties that were traditionally associated with S-, T- and H-rated tires. Are these tires performance tires or touring tires? Conversely there are H-, V- and W-rated tires engineered for more extreme performance capabilities in high-speed usage with the potential trade-offs being a step back in tread wear, noise and ride quality. How the tire is tuned to perform relative to the driver’s prioritization of what they need the tire to do is where the definitions come into play.

Jack Bidding, Tri-Ace: Going back in time 70-series tires might have been considered a high performance tire. That world has changed. Higher rim diameters and wider tread widths composed with ultra-high tech construction have a foothold in the aftermarket enthusiast world of UHP tires. At Tri-Ace, integrating the art of custom design and nano-scale high-resistant structure paves the way for more and more unique tire sizes that combine comfort and durability and are environmentally friendly.

Drew Dayton, Toyo: Our UHP tires are available in 15-inch to 22-inch and 24-inch diameters with speed ratings from V through (Y). OE tire fitments have been increasing in diameter, speed rating and performance over the years, but we still see a clear distinction in performance between our UHP tires and the high performance tires becoming more and more popular on new vehicles. We have seen a shift over the years from UHP summer tires being the most popular to now the UHP all-season tires dominating the market.Greg Hathcock, Vogue: It’s really hard to define because there are now subsections of the UHP market, and it’s becoming very broad. We define it as a V speed rating or higher. It’s probably easier to say how many tires are not coming UHP from the factory now

I would almost say the UHP tires are becoming more a broad market category just because of the coverage. UHP used to be a pretty narrow segment. Ten years ago there really wasn’t a UHP touring category that had as many products in it as it does now.

From an OE perspective, a UHP tire gives a vehicle a performance image and the amount it costs to upgrade is not substantial. The vehicle has a lot more credibility with consumers as far as performance if it’s got a higher-rated tire.

Ken Coltrane, YC Rubber: I remember when H-rated tires were high performance with V and Z being ultra-high performance. Now it is not unusual at all to see V-rated tires as original equipment on a four-door sedan.

Instead of saying broad market tires are part of the HP market, I would say that broad market tires now have H- and V-rated tires. These tires, like our Mozzo Touring, are designed for high mileage and a quiet ride. Today’s high performance tire would be more like our Mozzo Sport, with an asymmetrical design and W or Y speed ratings. These might not give the mileage that our touring tires do, but the performance characteristics will be greater. Plus, the tire looks cool.

Bob Abram, Yokohama: Yokohama generally agrees with the RMA with regard to the definition of performance tires. The RMA defines ultra-performance tires as “all V, W, Y and Z speed-rated tires whose primary design emphasis is speed, response and handling.”

By that definition, the market is quite sizeable, including both summer and all-season options. At the same time ultra-touring tires are growing. Those are defined by the RMA as “all V, W, Y and Z speed-rated tires whose primary design emphasis is driver comfort ride.”

This segment also accounts for a fairly significant portion of the market. It should be noted though that internally we don’t treat speed ratings as the sole determining factor of performance. In many cases, speed ratings are indicative of performance, but there is always more to the story.

For example, a 2016 Toyota Prius V, Ford Fusion, BMW 228i and a Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG all come standard with V-rated tires, and three of the four have a higher speed-rated option.

A couple of those vehicles stand out as needing performance tires, and a couple sound like ultra-touring is more appropriate, but ultimately the need is defined by the driver.With regard to S- and T-rated tires, there are 36 models of car or van that still use the lower speed-rated tires for model year 2016, and many of those are quite popular vehicles: Camry, Corolla, Elantra, Odyssey and Altima to name a few.

What has changed over generations is that all of these vehicles have multiple higher speed-rated options on different trim levels. In 1997 a Corolla had 14-inch S-rated tires. In 2007 a Corolla had 15-inch S-rated tires and a 16-inch V-rated option. In 2016 a Corolla had 15-inch S-rated, 16-inch H-rated and 17-inch W-rated options.

Auto manufacturers are slowly weeding out the lower speed ratings with options on reliable transportation types of vehicles, so in a sense higher speed-rated tires are becoming more broad market, but that doesn’t mean that true performance tires aren’t wanted or needed now or in the future.

As always, qualifying the customer should play a major role in determining the need for performance tires, not only the vehicle nameplate.

New tires in 2017 and 2018

MTD also asked manufacturers their plans for new HP and UHP tires in 2017 and 2018.

Bob Liu, Continental: On the Continental tire side, the ExtremeContact Sport (the successor to the ExtremeContact DW) will be available in February 2017. In the General tire product lineup, we will be introducing the successor to the G-MAX AS03 all-season tire in spring of 2017.

Mike Park, Falken: The Falken Azenis FK510 (UHP summer) and the Falken Azenis RT615K+ will be introduced in the first quarter of 2017.

Young Gi Lee, Hankook: We are always looking at new tire innovations and have plans to add to our UHP tire portfolio next year, and will continue to build on these advancements.

Marcus Hancock, Omni-United: We plan to launch a range of highway terrain tires, including some HP sizes for SUV/light trucks.Jon Vance, TBC Brands: 2018 will see the introduction of a new Sumitomo maximum summer performance tire replacing the current HTR Z3 with next-generation Sumitomo technology, including enhanced wet traction performance and extended tread life, 54 Y- rated sizes in 17 inches to 20 inches and 50/45/40/35/30 aspect ratios, all with extra load carrying capacity.

Jim Mayfield, Kumho: We have a  new all-season UHP projected to launch in 2018, but details are not yet ready.

Bob Abram, Yokohama: Introducing the Advan A052, the ultimate street-legal competition tire. Available in 19 sizes with 16-inch to 18-inch rim diameters, the Advan A052 is designed with next generation MS Compound technology for faster lap times and shorter braking distances. The Advan A052 hits the streets in early 2017.New sizes in the near future

Several companies told MTD they plan to add sizes to existing lines.

Scott Jamieson, Cooper: With the introduction of the Cooper Zeon RS3-G1 in the summer of 2016, we will only be launching size additions to the initial line of 37 sizes.

Ken Coltrane, YC Rubber: We will stay with our Duraturn Mozzo Sport for 2017 and 2018. We will be looking to add more sizes so that we can provide more staggered fitment applications.

John Wu, Maxxis: We can’t discuss 2018 yet, but we will expand our VR-1 extreme summer tire in 2017 with nine new sizes.

Designed for the motorsports enthusiast, the Victra VR-1 features a compound that warms to operating temperature quickly and provides tenacious dry traction on the street or the track. The VR-1’s compound also heat cycles well, ensuring consistent lap times throughout the life of the tire.Marcus Hancock, Omni-United: In 2017 and 2018 we plan to add sizes to our existing R8+, RPX800+ and AS-8 tire lines — UHP, HP and sport touring PCR, and SUV lines, respectively.

Jack Bidding, Tri-Ace: Tri-Ace UHP Formula One (all season), Carrera with over 100 tire sizes and the Racing King competition tires provide offerings for most mid-level and upper end performance and luxury vehicles.

Short range is to enhance the popular aftermarket fitments and then advance vehicle applications for popular U.S vehicles in which we do not currently offer sizes.    ■

Experts weigh in on HP and the broad market

Twenty-two tire manufacturers, marketers and distributors shared their insights and perspectives on the evolution of broad market tires. The respondents and their companies are:

Steven Liu, director of consumer products, proprietary brands, American Tire Distributors Inc.;

Brad Robison, product manager, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC;

Bob Liu, product manager, performance tires, Continental Tire the Americas LLC;

Scott Jamieson, director of product management for North America, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.;

Mike Park, product planning, passenger tires, Falken Tire Corp.;

David Shelton, director of marketing, Giti Tire (USA) Ltd.;

Mike Pulte, general manager, product marketing and innovation, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.;

Young Gi Lee, product manager, Hankook Tire Co. Ltd.;

Kellie Szczerbacki, assistant marketing manager, American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.;

Jim Mayfield, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Kumho Tire Co. Inc.;

John Wu, product manager, Maxxis International-USA;

Kevin Reim, senior product concept designer, Michelin North America Inc., BFGoodrich brand;

Sabrina Clement, ultra-high performance category manager, Michelin North America Inc.;

Steve Bourassa, director of products, Nokian Tyres plc;

Marcus Hancock, vice president, global technology, Omni United (S) Pte. Ltd.;Stefania Masciullo, director of research and development, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.;

Jon Vance, vice president, product marketing for TBC Corp.’s TBC Brands;

Jack Bidding, senior brand manager, Tri-Ace Wheel and Tire Corp.;

Drew Dayton, product manager, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.;

Greg Hathcock, president, Vogue Tyre & Rubber Co.;

Bob Abram, product planning manager, consumer tire, Yokohama Tire Corp.; and

Ken Coltrane, executive vice president, YC Rubber Co. LLC (North America).

Recent UHP tire launches

Five of the companies that responded to our questions on the broad market launched performance tires in 2016. They are Cooper (Zeon RS3-G1), Kenda (Vezda UHP A/S KR400), Nokian (Nokian zLine A/S UHP), Pirelli (P Zero Corsa) and Toyo (Proxes R888R).

Click here to see MTD's charts of High/Ultra-high Performance Market Share by Brand

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