The Growth of All-Weather Tires: How These Products Could Affect the Future of Winter and All-Season Offerings
The latest category of tires that offers year-round consumer convenience also promises to extend and add to one of the most common struggles independent tire dealers face: stocking an even wider assortment of products.
Because many North American drivers who live in four-season climates haven’t yet adapted to seasonal tire changeovers, all-weather tires have come to the market offering an attractive solution, at least on paper.
But of the 10 tire manufacturer representatives who responded to MTD’s recent series of questions about all-weather tires, none said they expect the products to replace all-season tires in the near future.
That means tire dealers will have to continue to teach “Tire 101” at the sales counter and educate consumers about the performance and design differences of these tire categories with similar-sounding names. And dealers will have to stock another small but growing category of tires.
Some of the companies that answered our questions already have an all-weather tire on the market, the most recent coming from Michelin North America Inc. in July. Nexen Tire America Inc. says it has a product in development, and Hankook Tire America Corp. will release its first
all-weather tire in September. We asked tiremakers to take a deep dive into all-weather products, covering everything from demand, where all-weather tires sell most robustly and a description of the typical all-weather tire customer to what the all-weather category means for the bigger all-season consumer tire segment. Here’s what they had to say:
MTD: What’s driving demand for the all-weather category? Who is the typical all-weather tire customer?
Abhishek Bisht, global head of new markets and channels for Apollo Tyres Ltd., parent company of Vredestein: The demand for this category comes from customers wanting a single tire solution for year-round capabilities. It is more cost-effective and time-efficient to run an all-weather tire year-round, as opposed to alternating between an all-season tire and a dedicated winter tire in regions that experience snow and slush. The typical customer is someone who has to keep all four seasons in mind, with additional emphasis on colder weather capabilities.
Daniel Kelly, product planner at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: As technology continues to advance and manufacturers are able to deliver tires with fewer performance trade-offs, we expect the all-weather category will continue to grow and expand, particularly in the northern regions of the U.S. and across Canada. One large compromise drivers in certain regions have traditionally faced is having to switch to dedicated winter tires in colder months. All-weather tires give drivers the ability to keep the same tires on year-round with the confidence of 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake-certified performance. All-weather tires are designed to perform across a variety of conditions and are suited for drivers in any region. They are an ideal upgrade for drivers living in regions that experience winter weather but wish to remain on a single set of tires year-round. Dealers can look for tire manufacturers to continue to innovate and improve the wear life, ride comfort and fuel economy of all-weather tire offerings.
Andrea Berryman, director of product management for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: This category is one that is relatively new to being marketed in the U.S., so that alone is driving some excitement. Beyond that, the all-weather tire has some advanced winter characteristics that may help fill the gap for consumers who don’t want the expense of purchasing a separate winter tire but may live in the mid-to-northern regions of the U.S., where snow performance is needed.
Curtis Brison, vice president of passenger and light truck tire sales at Hankook Tire America Corp.: The winter tire market in North America is very difficult to manage and predict. Consumers want a tire that provides all-season handling but also provides additional grip in snowy and slushy conditions. The addition of this all-weather tire (category) gives consumers a new choice to tackle variable winter conditions, while not sacrificing warm weather performance. From a customer perspective, the versatility of this tire due to its 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification allows them to have winter-capable inventory all year long, which can help them manage inventories, especially in the case of a light winter or in markets that see winter conditions but may be not enough to warrant a true winter tire.
Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of the automotive division at American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd.: For those manufacturers that have developed strong design modeling and have advanced compounding, there are now options to provide better wear, along with meeting the 3-Peak Snowflake performance. Until recently, it has been hard to find balance to meet those criteria and still provide strong wet and dry performance year-round. Although a true winter tire with proper design will outperform an all-weather tire on ice and more severe winter conditions, this new segment provides an upgrade over a standard all-season tire during the winter season.
The primary target customer for all-weather tires will be folks who are in geographies that have lighter snow and seasonal changes that need better performance during the winter. For consumers who want to maximize wear and are in regions that do not demand upgraded winter performance, they may want to stay with all-season touring or grand touring tires. For light truck, adding the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake performance provides additional benefits for northern geographies.
Tom Carter, technical communications director for product marketing at Michelin North America Inc.: The driving demand for an all-season tire with 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake is in the regional snow belt and where legislation requires the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol and consumers do not want to change their all-season tires to winter tires.
Jay Lee, director of product planning at Nexen Tire America Inc.: Consumers are looking for tires that fit all needs of their lifestyle. They are less interested in changing tires as the seasons fluctuate. If a tire can perform in all-weather conditions, it will be more convenient for them. Switching out a dedicated set of snow tires before and after the season can cost upwards of $200.
Steve Bourassa, director of products for Nokian Tyres Inc.: Education is driving demand. Once drivers understand that all-season tires aren’t ideal for all four seasons in much of North America, we’ve seen they’re quite willing to step up to an all-weather tire. As a result of that education, which usually comes from dealers, we’ve seen demand for all-weather tires grow steadily over the past few years. The typical all-weather driver lives in an area with unpredictable winter weather and wants year-round peace of mind. In those areas of the country, a growing number of drivers are opting for a true four-season option rather than an all-season tire that isn’t equipped to withstand snow, ice or temperatures below 45 degrees. All-weather tires are also popular with snowbirds who regularly drive across the country during the winter months, as well as winter sports enthusiasts who often find themselves in unpredictable mountain weather.
Certainly, there will always be markets that are best-served by a true winter tire. Much of Canada and the northernmost U.S. states get enough severe winter weather to necessitate a dedicated winter tire and we’ll always recommend winter tires as the safest option for drivers in those areas. But if a driver refuses to carry two sets of tires, a premium all-weather tire is a much safer option than an all-season product, and we’re seeing some consumers in those traditional winter locations make that step up.
Sam Choo, winter tire product planner at Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc. (SRNA/Falken): The central idea driving demand for the all-weather category is the desire for improved winter performance without compromising the convenience of an all-season tire. Our market research helped us pinpoint three main reasons why consumers in the U.S. and Canada would opt for all-weather tires: the desire for more safety and control in snowy conditions; the hype of the severe snow rating, whether driven by regulation, the retailer or word-of-mouth; and the convenience of not having to change tires and deal with tire storage. The typical customer is the all-season user who wants more winter traction but doesn’t want to deal with the inconvenience of swapping tires mid-year. In Canada, it’s about a 50/50 split between consumers who switch tires in winter and those who stick with the same tires all year long.
When we asked both groups if they’d be open to the idea of an all-weather tire, the “non-switchers” were much more inclined to express interest. This is likely because Canadians are well-educated on the benefits of a strong winter tire. Those who switch their tires every winter presumably feel that sacrificing winter performance isn’t worth the added convenience. Conversely, folks in the U.S. who switch tires in winter seem to have a different perspective. Of those who switch their tires, around 75% would likely opt for all-weather tires. This sounds great until you realize that this group of potential customers makes up about 10% of the U.S. population.
On the other hand, nearly 90% of Americans keep the same set of tires year-round, with more than half of this segment expressing interest in an all-weather tire. This group of consumers is intrigued by the possibility of improved winter performance and safety, without having to store an additional set of tires in their garage. Dealers should be open to all contenders but the capabilities that this segment demands require exceptional balance across all parameters. As you gain capabilities in a tire, there are often trade-offs in other performance sectors. Having a strong winter product helps, but the development department still has to walk a fine line between compound, tread design and wear life to make a successful product. Vredestein has been a pioneer in the all-weather category for decades, with the widest all-weather portfolio in North America spanning over 130 sizes, with over 60% of the range being larger than 17 inches.
Kelly, Bridgestone: Manufacturers are constantly trying to strike the right balance between ‘the three W’s:’ wet, winter and wear. The key to having a great all-weather tire is not only to achieve 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake levels of winter performance, but also to achieve expected all-season tire levels of wet performance and wear life.
Berryman, Cooper: This category is open to all tiers, but I have not seen the lower tiers engage yet. There is additional cost and engineering expertise needed to achieve 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake. Companies that have strong winter products generally have the understanding it takes to develop an all-weather tire.
Brison, Hankook: I can’t speak for other manufacturers but I can tell you Hankook is one of the most technologically advanced tire companies in the industry and we invest heavily in research and development. We are offering some of the highest quality products on the market and giving the consumer the highest value possible. Our all-weather offering will be no different. Stotsenburg, Kenda: The technologies needed to provide the performance benefits are currently available to manufacturers that have the compounding and design tools necessary for the balanced performance previously described. A strong winter offering will demonstrate the design and compounding needed for more severe conditions.
Additionally, for many low profile, premium CUVs, sports cars and sedans, these consumers may decide that their best option is to have summer and winter tires on two sets of wheels. For those who feel comfortable with an all-weather tire, they should verify the performance and compromises that these tires will offer them. The best professional to do this will be their independent tire dealer.
Carter, Michelin: There are technologies that limit the ability of manufacturers to offer an all-weather tire that do not make compromises for wet and dry in order to deliver snow. For now, a true all-season tire that is also certified 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake will probably be limited to Tier 1 due to the technologies required to overcome the compromises inherent in delivering a single tire that performs well in dry, wet and snow.
Lee, Nexen: At this time, it is mostly Tier 1 and Tier 2 brands that compete in this space. Consumers are very sensitive to their safety when it comes to using and selecting winter tires. The all-season tire is not a replacement for those who are very concerned with winter performance. That consumer will still purchase dedicated winter tires.
Bourassa, Nokian: We believe that premium investment and legacy of winter innovation set our all-weather tires apart. Many tire manufacturers can make a tire that passes the requirements necessary to earn the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake emblem. It’s much harder to make an all-weather tire that balances strong summer and winter performance while offering optimal tread life. Only tiremakers that focus on providing the right product for the all-weather market through testing and experience will be successful.
Choo, SRNA/Falken: Due to the current size of the market, it may be tough for some brands to justify developing an all-weather product with no guarantee of substantial return on investment. Consumers have yet to adopt the idea of an all-weather tire, so it will take some time before it’s considered a worthy option. With that being said, as the segment matures, we anticipate multiple price levels will surely follow. If the all-season segment is any indication, we’ll likely see the formation of multiple price tiers based on consumer preferences. Currently, the market for this segment is fairly small, but as industry support for all-weather grows, we believe consumer interest will grow with it.
Parsons, Toyo: The all-weather category is certainly a tougher one to break into with a competitive offering. The ability to meet winter demands with a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake rating, while delivering dry performance and all-around comfort with low noise, is a difficult balance to achieve. Past experience with different product categories, particularly winter, definitely helps in the development of an all-weather tire.
MTD: What does the growth of all-weather offerings mean for the future of all-season tires?
Bisht, Apollo Vredestein: Demand for all-season tires will remain as different regions favor different tire attributes. Those in the south will favor the attributes of an all-season tire like the (Vredestein) Hypertrac, that provide a longer wear life and even better wet performance, over the softer compound and snow capabilities that an all-weather tire offers.
Kelly, Bridgestone: As the all-weather category continues to grow and advance we expect that some versions of winter and all-season tires will be replaced with all-weather options. However, we do not anticipate the all-weather category completely replacing all-season and/or winter tires. In the current market, dealers will need to determine which tires to carry based on their region and climate. In regions with light to no winter weather, dealers will likely need to carry all-weather and all-season tire offerings. In regions that get frequent winter weather or require 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake-certified tires, dealers will need to carry winter and all-weather tires.
Berryman, Cooper: Because winter tires are obviously a seasonal product and no one can predict the winter weather forecast from year to year, winter tire sales are difficult to predict. Also, inventory leftovers from prior year can lead to significant swings in winter tire shipments. A tire that performs adequately in winter and the rest of the seasons creates inventory turns that are much better, and consumers don’t have to buy two sets of tires. This is a space where all-weather tires can excel.
With that said, winter tires are the best for winter conditions They will outperform all-weather tires in snow and ice. All-weather will be better than all-season in winter conditions, but to get that winter performance, all-weather tires may have other areas that don’t perform, as well. All-season tires will not go extinct. They can offer longer miles, better wet performance and lower rolling resistance that make them an attractive choice for many consumers.
Brison, Hankook: We believe there is room in the market for both categories. All-season tires remain the workhorse tire in the market, but as tire technology advances, we can address driver needs that we couldn’t have addressed even a few years ago. The entry of the all-weather category is the confluence of improved technology meeting the needs of our customers and consumers in winter markets. It is an exciting opportunity when you can bring offerings like this to market that can improve driver safety and performance.
Stotsenburg, Kenda: Good all-season tires can optimize wear, dry and wet performance, as well as ride and noise. There will be some compromises when the tire also offers 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification. Some folks will not want to make those compromises and will prefer the benefits of a great touring, grand touring or all-season ultra-high performance tires. There will often be a price premium to offer properly verified, all-weather benefits. Consumers in more severe winter weather markets will likely want to have an optimized winter tire. As all-weather technologies improve to lessen the compromises, this segment will continue to grow. As the primary, visible trade-off will be wear, with lower mileage warranties, many North American consumers may choose the higher warranties and/or lower prices offered by all-season tires.
Carter, Michelin: We believe the growth of all-weather offerings may actually force all-season tires to move closer to our categorization of “all-season plus,” an advancement in the all-season category by pushing the existing category to the next level. Nonetheless, we have no doubt that the all-season category without 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (certification) will remain strong.
The educated and discerning consumer in snow regions and in regions legislating 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake in winter months will request snow certification. When we asked consumers what they thought about the need for 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake, most consumers didn’t recognize the term or know the definition of a snow certification. However, when asked if their tires should have a snow certification, over three quarters of the consumers in our study said “yes.”
So, we believe the top-tier tires for this consumer base will offer the next level of all-season tires with a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification.
Lee, Nexen: All-season tires will not go extinct. They still will have better handling and performance characteristics than all-weather tires do. Most consumers want longevity in their tires, which means a harder rubber compound. This is not conducive to winter performance as rubber needs to remain softer, especially in very cold temperatures.
Bourassa, Nokian: We believe there will always be a place for all-season tires. In areas like the southeast and southwest, winter conditions are rare enough that all-weather tires are typically unnecessary. That means consumers in those places tend to double down on all-season properties that make sense for their roads: tires with high speed ratings, rugged off-road capability, and/or strong wet-weather properties. Drivers who opt for winter tires during cold-weather months will also continue to need strong all-season options during summer. As long as the winter tire market is thriving, there will always be a need for all-season tires to complement them.
Choo, SRNA/Falken: It’s very possible that all-weather could essentially replace all-season in the future, especially in Canada and northern parts of the U.S,, but it may be some time before that happens. Because North Americans typically prioritize high mileage warranties, it’s very difficult for tire manufacturers to successfully develop a worthy tire that also meets the industry’s severe snow requirements.
Until we see radical breakthroughs in tread pattern and compound technologies, the all-season (tire) is likely here to stay.
Parsons, Toyo: While the all-weather market will continue to grow stronger, the all-season category will always have a stronghold in the tire market. Consumers just need to understand that even though they sound similar, all-weather and all-season are very distinct categories. ■