Winter tire shipments were up significantly in both the United States and Canada in 2008 compared to 2007. Few other tire segments proved as successful.
Just look at the numbers. In the U.S., a record 5.3 million replacement winter tire units were shipped last year — an increase of 23.2%. The ultra-high performance segment, by comparison, experienced 3.6% growth.
In Canada, winter tire shipments were up 22.8%. Only the P-metric light truck tire segment had a higher percentage increase year-to-year, and it is half the size of the winter tire segment.
Falken Tire Corp. wants to get in on the action, first with its new Eurowinter HS439. The winter performance tire, first introduced at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show last November, will be available in 31 sizes in time for the 2009/2010 winter season.
2.2 million and counting
Andrew Hoit, Falken’s director of marketing, estimates the winter performance segment represents more than 40% of the winter tire market in the U.S., or close to 2.2 million units. That percentage will grow, he predicts.
The percentage isn’t as high in Canada, but Hoit says it also will continue to grow because of the original equipment shift to larger diameter wheel sizes in the last four years. “As OE goes, winter follows!”
Compared to a traditional studless winter tire (see sidebar), a winter performance tire offers superior handling in wet and dry conditions at the expense of some deep snow and ice traction. “You can extend your season... it will work in early fall and it will work in late spring,” he says.
The Eurowinter HS439 tread pattern features multi-angled sipes for snow and ice traction; circumferential grooves designed to expel water, slush and packed snow; and a new silica compound that the company says “ensures tread flexibility in cold weather conditions.”
The size lineup ranges from 175/70TR13 to 245/40VR18. There is also one 19-inch size, 255/50VR19. Hoit says the company is looking at adding “maybe another 10 to 12 sizes.”
According to Falken, the HS439 will compete directly against the Hankook Icebear W300, Yokohama W.drive, Goodyear Ultra Grip Performance, Dunlop SP Winter Sport M3 and Continental ContiWinterContact TS 810.
Falken hopes to introduce a studless winter tire line, the Espia, in 14 sizes in 2010. Hoit says the tire will complement the Eurowinter HS439 lineup. ■
By definition: winter tires
Falken Tire Corp. divides the winter tire market into the following three categories.
1. Winter performance tires make up more than 40% of the winter tire market. They feature T, H and V speed ratings, and “typically trade some deep snow and ice traction for enhanced dry and wet handling” compared to tires from the other categories.
2. Studless winter tires are designed to provide “comparable” snow and ice traction to traditional “studdable” winter tires. Compared to winter performance tires, which also are studless, they are Q- and T-rated, and trade some handling for enhanced snow and ice traction.
3. Studdable winter tires were developed so metal studs could be added to them. Compared to any studless tire, they trade comfort and a quieter ride for improved ice and hard packed snow traction.