Customized and Complex: CUV and SUV Tires
The Options Will Continue to Expand
When customers arrive at your tire dealership ready to buy replacement tires for a CUV or SUV, guiding them through the selection process might seem akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.
Just as there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for sedans and coupes, the CUV and SUV tire markets are becoming more segmented and specialized.
Does the customer want a touring tire with a long tread life or an all-weather tire that provides grip regardless of road surface?
Does the driver need an all-terrain tire to occasionally take his or her vehicle off-road on the weekends?
Maybe the customer hauls a trailer regularly and needs tires that match the vehicle’s power?
Or maybe the driver is accustomed to switching between a dedicated winter tire and a performance-tuned, summer tire as the seasons change?
Tiremakers are customizing products for all of these uses and situations, and many more. CUV and SUV tire size offerings are increasing too. And because these vehicles run on a mix of P-metric and light truck tires, their sizes are becoming more complicated.
Andrew Hoit, vice president of sales and marketing for Tireco Inc., was blunt in his assessment. “The evolution of CUV tires is coming at a much faster rate than it did for passenger cars. Changes are happening fast and dealers need to adapt to the market.”
Hoit was among the 20 experts we talked to about the most important CUV and SUV tire trends for independent tire dealers to watch for the future.
Among the features important to drivers of SUVs and CUVs, Apollo says, is year-round performance, and the Vredestein Hypertrac provides all-weather assurance.
Abhishek Bisht, assistant vice president, Americas, Apollo Tyres Ltd.: Given the long and daily distances which are covered with these kinds of vehicles, the following aspects turn into the most relevant tire features for the end user: noise and comfort, as CUV and SUV owners prioritize a quiet and comfortable ride; tire mileage, as a tire with a long lifespan is important, but convenience and price also play a role in their decision; and all-season performance, as end users want to ensure they are covered in all conditions and have a sporty-looking tire to represent the vehicle’s capabilities.
Customization is the keyword for CUV and SUV drivers, says Atturo’s Michael Mathis. Drivers are upgrading their vehicles for more off-road use.
Michael Mathis, president, Atturo Tire Corp.: The most important trend for independent dealers to watch in the CUV and SUV market is customization. These vehicles are now becoming the platforms for all kinds of aftermarket customization, which usually starts with an upgrade to the tires. The SUV market is already well-established for upgrades, from lowered for street performance to lifted for off road use. There is a rapidly growing trend in the CUV segment to upgrade these vehicles for off-road use. Their small size and nimble all-wheel drive systems make for great trail vehicles, when equipped with the correct tires. There are even lift kits available to help fit larger sizes of tires.
While there have been tire sizes that have applied to a broad spectrum of SUVs and CUVs, Bridgestone says diversification is coming — with sizes never before seen in the industry.
Will Robbins, senior product manager for the U.S. and Canada, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC: The single largest trend in the CUV/SUV space most likely to impact dealers is the increasing diversity of sizes being applied to new vehicles. Historically, there has been a concentrated number of key sizes, such as 225/65R17 or 275/55R20, that had broad application on new vehicles, reducing the complexity of stocking decisions. Similar to the trend impacting sedans in the early 2000’s, CUVs and SUVs have now started to see applications of sizes that did not previously exist anywhere in the industry, including higher, 20- and 21-inch wheel diameters. This trend means that more sizes will be needed to cover the same number of vehicles requiring a more diverse inventory.
In addition to the expansion of size offerings, the types of products available for CUVs and SUVs are also becoming more diverse. Historically, these vehicles featured either touring/highway patterns or winter products. However, an increasing number of vehicles now feature all-terrain, performance and all-weather patterns. These factors together could create a significant amount of complexity for dealers in their inventory decisions.
Drivers may have stepped up from a sedan to a CUV or SUV, but Continental says they still want and expect a car-like ride.
Travis Roffler, director of marketing, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: This market is expanding rapidly and tire performance criteria in this category is changing from year to year as car manufacturers continue to adapt their vehicles to changing consumer demand. Many owners of CUVs and SUVs are looking for car-like manners in their tires. These consumers are looking for a quiet and comfortable ride, great all-season on-road traction and long mileage in their tires.
Andrea Berryman, director of product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: Trends for the SUV/CUV market include improved fuel economy, with more hybrid and electric vehicles available for sale, as well as more efficient internal combustion engines. Drivers today can watch their miles per gallon on their dashboard. It’s a billboard for fuel efficiency. Paying attention to miles per gallon will be promoted by more tire companies over time.
Another trend is the slight lift in horsepower with turbo options replacing V6 engines, in some cases. Handling capability in tires will need to align to the higher performance now being demonstrated by some vehicles. Tires need to allow the vehicle to perform as promised, and improved handling will be required of new tires entering the market.
A third trend is consumer desire for increased flexibility in capability. Drivers want comfortable highway manners, with some off-roading capability. Cooper understands that drivers spend more of their time doing everyday driving, but on those occasions when drivers want to go off the beaten path, they want confidence knowing their tire is durable enough to handle rough roads. Durability is a common need or theme heard from drivers on trails or poor city roads.
To meet the growing demand of luxury SUV drivers, Federal offers the Couragia F/X in sizes for 17-inch to 24-inch wheels.
Jenny Chu, marketing section manager, Federal Tire North America LLC: The CUV market has grown rapidly in recent years. In the early days, many specifications were shared with high-chassis cars. Slowly, products corresponding to this market will be incorporated into the SUV product line.
The sport function of the original luxury SUVs has also been gradually transferred to (current) SUV models, so performance will increase in the SUV market, and the tire product line will also be adjusted for this performance.
From our observation of the automotive market, our prediction for tire trends is that there will be an obvious diversion of touring and performance tires.
Curtis Brison says Hankook sees a trend of consumers searching for more premium performance tires for their CUVs and SUVs. Hankook is working to develop products to meet that demand.
Curtis Brison, vice president of passenger and light truck tire sales, Hankook Tire America Corp.: Research has shown that by 2025, SUVs and light trucks are expected to reach 69% of all vehicles sold in the U.S. CUVs will be a significant part of this SUV growth. Another trend we’re seeing is that consumers are seeking out more premium performance tires for their SUVs and CUVs. Popular sizes for SUV and CUV tires in North America are trending toward wheel diameters of 18 inches and 19 inches.
The Klever A/T2 KR628 from Kenda meets the needs of SUV drivers who want the look and off-road performance of an all-terrain tire, towing capability and a quiet ride.
Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of automotive, American Kenda Rubber Co. Ltd.: The CUV segment will continue to be strong, with growing 18-inch and larger diameters over-indexing, moving forward. Vehicle manufacturers are betting on continuing consumer demand for CUVs, with many replacing cars. There will be an expansion of options, with smaller, entry-level models growing, in addition to mid-level and premium platforms. Kenda anticipates a growing trend for all-weather tires that have reasonable mileage expectations and are 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake-certified. In the near term, more H-, V- and some W-rated tires will expand as CUVs - built on sedan platforms - need the performance associated with premium, grand touring-type tires.
The SUV segment will also grow, with 18-inch and larger tire applications. As SUVs are heavier and larger than CUVs, market demand will depend on economic drivers, including gas pricing. For tires, most of these vehicles will utilize P-metric tires, with an increase in H-plus speed ratings to accommodate platform modifications. Again, there will be growing demand for improved mileage and a push (for) all-weather tires.
Kenda anticipates that both segments will see growth in hybrid and electric options globally. As this increases, the demand for good rolling resistance and extended mileage will continue to expand.
With almost all-new platforms requiring 17-inch and larger fitments, the retailer needs to understand the end user’s driving style and application needs. Do they need to have an LT tire for towing? Will they want a highway-terrain or an all-terrain tire for primary use? How will they prioritize price versus performance?
With growing demand and continued expansion of sizes — especially on 18-inch and larger wheels — Kumho says tire dealers need to remain flexible and expect to add more sizes to their inventories.
Chris Han, marketing manager, Kumho Tire USA Inc.: The CUV/SUV markets are still steadily growing and with this growth, you will continue to see size proliferation of aftermarket tire offerings. Just like what we have seen from vehicle manufacturers with changes to traditional passenger cars and original equipment fitments moving towards more high performance products, we should see CUV/SUV vehicles continue to evolve towards being equipped with 18-inch through 21-inch and larger sizes, with H,V and some W speed ratings.
You should also see more demand coming from consumers with CUVs who prefer an all-terrain tire that fits better into their lifestyles over the typical highway product, and also a push coming through for all-weather tires that are severe-snow rated. With these continued changes, independent tire dealers will need to adapt to the increased product and size offerings that they will need to stock.
Michelin’s Tom Carter says the complexity of the safety systems in CUVs and SUVs is something dealers need to keep in mind when recommending tires. Those systems demand tires that can match their capabilities.
Tom Carter, technical communications director for product marketing, Michelin North America Inc.: Safety systems need good tires, as modern CUVs/SUVs are often equipped with sophisticated safety systems like dynamic stability control and automatic emergency braking. These systems rely on tires and need good tires to perform well. Tires
Many SUV/CUV purchases are first-time owners of all-wheel drive (vehicles). All-wheel drive gives added starting traction, but stopping traction is only as good as the tires in wet, dry and snow. In many ways, all-wheel drive increases, not decreases, the need for tires with good traction to better manage/balance the vehicle’s starting, stopping, and lateral traction capabilities.This is a good discussion for the tire dealer to have with the consumer.
SUV and CUV owners want it all: space, economy, good looks, good handling and quiet, good traction. Many want the ruggedness of a capable off-road vehicle and the quietness of a luxury sedan. They want the space of a conversion van and the economy of a small hybrid. Good tires help SUVs and CUVs deliver on many of the attributes that are important to consumers.
Consumers have high expectations, and Nexen says among the qualities on their list are tires that offer value, as well as a mileage warranty.
Jay Lee, director of product planning, Nexen Tire America Inc.: Consumers are increasingly choosing CUVs and SUVs over traditional passenger sedans. These vehicles prioritize comfort and versatility. Consumers look for the same attributes in their tires. We have found that consumers are looking for a high-mileage, comfortable and low-noise tire. Consumers are also driven by value and the availability of a warranty, especially a mileage warranty.
The demands of CUV and SUV drivers are diverse, and that’s why Steve Bourassa says Nokian offers CUV and SUV fitments within all of its product groups.
Steve Bourassa, director of products and pricing, Nokian Tyres Inc.: With the proliferation of CUV and SUV options for drivers, the tire industry has responded with more and more tire options for these vehicles. Depending on the required size, many more consumers can now select between a passenger tire, an SUV touring (tire) or an all-terrain application for many vehicles. Tire manufacturers are further increasing the selection for consumers by offering all-season, all-weather and winter variants for most vehicle applications. Opportunities for consumers to customize their driving experience with their preferred tire selection has never been better, which is a great opportunity for independent tire dealers to work with their customers to find the right solution to get the most out of their CUV or SUV.
Pirelli’s Scorpion Verde All Season Plus II touring tire features improved wet performance, a quiet and comfortable ride, and a 65,000 mile limited warranty.
Gaetano Trezza, vice president of marketing, Pirelli Tire North America: CUVs and SUVs are becoming lighter and faster, with more advanced materials, technology and parts. Consumers now expect the same level of performance in their CUVs and SUVs as they did historically on passenger sedans and coupes. Tires are a critical part of the performance story in the latest generation of SUVs and CUVs, and Pirelli is supplying more ultra high performance original equipment tires to vehicle manufacturers. We also see larger rim sizes continuing to grow with the latest wave of SUVs and CUVs in the market. We also see more consumers purchasing all-terrain tires as they seek to upgrade the off-road capability of their light trucks and SUVs.
Sentury says even though consumers want custom tire options, they also wanto to maintain vehicle comfort.
Maxwell Wee, executive vice president, Sentury Tire USA: A trend that we see in the SUV segment is that consumers are enjoying modifying their SUVs. From extreme to light modifications, both include aftermarket wheels and all-terrain tires. However, the tires must meet the true needs of the customer and most drivers will not want to surrender the comfort and quality in large, luxury SUVs. This new trend can be seen everywhere, from urban to rural settings.
The same is true for CUVs, from the Toyota Rav4 to the Subaru Outback. Consumers want light off-road capabilities and a modified look. As these vehicles begin to age and as attractive, new models come out, we expect to see continued growth in all-terrain replacement tires for the SUV/CUV segment.
SUVs and CUVs will be the most popular vehicles for the foreseeable future, with many exciting models coming out from both fuel and eclectic OEMs alike. This market will grow for quality highway-terrain and all-terrain tire manufacturers.
Luxury utility vehicles are growing more popular, and Falken believes it has combined the necessary robust tire construction with a stylish, low-aspect ratio tire in the Azenis FK510 SUV.
Tsuyoshi Johnson, product planning for the Falken brand, Sumitomo Rubber North America: We’re keeping tabs on two main trends in the CUV/SUV market: The growth of luxury CUVs and SUVs, and more and more trim options. According to IHS Markit, from 2015 to 2019, premium price crossover sales have grown more than 42%, with most of that growth coming from the compact CUV segment. Think the Audi Q5, the Lexus NX, and the BMW X3, which sold more than 70,000 units last year. Plus, full-size luxury CUV sales have nearly doubled in the same time period. These vehicles are becoming more and more popular, and we expect the trend to continue into the foreseeable future.
In regards to tire technology, we believe these luxury vehicles demand three main attributes from the tires they ride on: XL load index, durable outside shoulder ribs and a combination of large rim sizes and low aspect ratios. This is because luxury crossovers, built with bigger engines and sound dampening features, are not only heavier than their non-luxury counterparts. They’re also more top-heavy than a traditional sedan. With a higher center of gravity, this additional weight not only requires tires with an XL load index. It also calls for strong outside shoulder construction. Plus, when you consider the fact that luxury SUV owners want to ride in style, all this robust tire construction has to be built into stylish, low aspect ratio/large rim diameter sizes.
As sales figures increase, additional (vehicle) trim options will follow. In fact, they already have. Toyota’s getting into the off-road game with their RAV4 TRD model, while ultra-high performance trims, like the AMG GLC63, cater to those who truly want their crossover to perform like a sports car.
An enhanced focus on CUVs and SUVs has already resulted in increased demand for trim options that deliver a precise driving experience for a wide range of consumers. In a lot of ways, CUVs and SUVs are taking over. And while traditional sedans won’t be going away anytime soon - the Toyota Corolla and Camry and the Honda Accord are all still among the top 10 in sales - it’s crucial that we, as an industry, are up to date with everything OEMs are doing.
With the explosion of sizes and fitments for this category, Jon Vance of TBC says it’s critical that tire dealers partner with local wholesale distributors that stock the breadth of inventory needed.
Jon Vance, senior vice president of product marketing, TBC Corp.: The most important trend is the exploding proliferation of fitments for this category and the need to ensure expedited, localized availability, while minimizing backroom stocking levels. Fitments in this booming segment are higher rim diameter, larger tires that require more inventory space and are more expensive to carry than passenger tires. Partnering with local wholesale distributors that carry the breadth and depth to properly service this segment is essential for dealers.
Also, not all SUV/CUV tires are created equal. Just as with sedans and coupes, crossovers and sport utility tire fitments are also increasingly being tuned to multiple vehicle applications and driver performance requirements. Understanding these differences will allow dealers to properly fit the right tire to the right application and meet the performance needs of the consumer, whether it be a preference for a quiet, smooth highway ride or the desire for a more high performance-oriented driving experience, with a focus on handling and high-speed stability.
Andrew Hoit says Tireco has expanded CUV and SUV tire sizes in the MS932 Sport, MS932
Andrew Hoit, vice president of sales and marketing, Tireco Inc.: When gas prices began to climb, consumers did not want to downgrade from SUVs. Instead, consumers turned to CUVs to retain comfort, more accessible seating and (larger) cargo areas. Lighter design contributes to better fuel economy than minivans and full-size SUVs. CUVs also test safer in crashes and offer better road visibility than passenger cars.
CUVs account for over 30% of the vehicles on the road today and SUVs account for about 10%. Understanding where the growth is will be key in making the right tires available when the vehicle’s tire is due for replacement.
Of the CUV segments, the non-luxury compact and mid-size segment remains the largest and that is over 80% of the CUVs on the road today. On top of that, CUVs are equipped with bigger, wider, higher speed-rated tire sizes. In 2015, about 40% of CUVs came (with) 18- inch to 22-inch diameter wheel sizes. Five years later, about half of all CUVs come with those sizes. The evolution of CUV tires is coming at a much faster rate than it did for passenger cars. Changes are happening fast and dealers need to adapt to the market.
The total number of SUVs on the road has stayed relatively flat the last five years, but we are seeing growth in the luxury SUV segment. Similar to CUVs, SUVs are also equipped with larger tire sizes. Five years ago, about 25% of SUVs came OE with 18- inch to 22-inch diameter wheel sizes. Now, around 40% of SUVs come with 18-inch to 22-inch rim diameters as OE. Furthermore, one out of five SUVs on the road has H-rated and above tires.
Toyo launched the Open Country A/T III in March of this year and says it is growing in popularity with hardcore off-roaders, as well as customers Toyo calls “soft-roaders,” who drive small SUVs, wagons and CUVs.
Todd Bergeson, senior manager of light truck tires, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: Small SUV and crossover vehicles lead automobile sales in the US. Within this buying trend, it has also become trendy to replace OE tires with a more capable off-road tire to make better use of the excellent four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive drivetrains these modern vehicles offer.
Crossovers, SUVs and half-ton pickups are usually equipped from the factory with a P-metric tire. A vehicle’s maximum load carrying capacity must be matched by the load carrying capacity of the tire at the OEM-prescribed inflation pressure. A common misconception is that installing an LT-metric tire increases the load carrying or towing capacity of the vehicle. This is simply not true. The tire is only one factor that goes into the load rating of a vehicle. The suspension spring rate, the capacity of the braking system, the design and rated strength of the suspension components and more all factor into the vehicle’s load rating.
Of course, LT-metric tires can be installed on half-ton and smaller vehicles and there are durability and strength advantages, along with the tradeoffs of increased weight, higher required inflation pressures and higher purchase price. Understanding the difference is the key to making the best decision.
Consumers often choose to buy a CUV or SUV because they feel safe and secure with the view offered in the larger vehicle. Vogue says it’s important for dealers to discuss those same safety aspects when recommending replacement tires.
Brian Fjeldsted, vice president of marketing, Vogue Tyre & Rubber Co.: One of the main drivers of the growth of crossovers and SUVs is the sense of safety and security they provide. Consumers are becoming accustomed to the feeling of safety from a larger vehicle and the commanding view a crossover or SUV provides. Independent tire dealers need to keep this in consideration as they are presenting tires to their prospects. While price and durability will be high on the list of needs, discussing the safety aspects of the replacement tire will align with one of the core reasons consumers are switching to SUVs and crossovers.
Yokohama says model year 2020 and 2021 CUVs are coming with original fitments that range from ultra-high performance tires and touring tires to all-terrain tires. Tire dealers need to be prepared with a diverse offering of replacement options.
Bob Abram, senior manager of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.: The CUV segment has grown steadily and aggressively for a decade or more. This growth has led the CUV segment to sprout important sub-segments like subcompact CUVs that are smaller and even more car-like, and luxury performance CUVs that often feature powerful engines and enhanced handling capabilities. To effectively cover the most popular vehicles on the road, you need to think about stocking a wider range of tires than a standard good-better-best product screen. This has a direct impact on the second trend: tire type. For CUVs with 2020-2021 model years, ultra-high performance summer, ultra-high performance all-season, touring all-season, crossover all-season and all-terrain tire types are all standard fitments at OE. You need to be prepared for these different tire types to satisfy the coming consumer demand.
Large diameter tires have found their way to popular mainstream CUVs. A few years ago, it was only common to find 20-inch-to-22-inch wheel diameters on high-end brands like Land Rover, Porsche and BMW, but 20’s and 21’s are coming to the mainstream in a big way.
Consider that the new Chevy Blazer, Ford Explorer and Volkswagen Atlas all have 21-inch OE options. The Explorer by itself should provide more than four times the opportunity for 275/45R21s than the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport combined. When you add the Lincoln Aviator to the mix, know you have five times the opportunity. The same trend continues with 265/45R21, which in 2020, now (offers) three times the opportunity (from) just a couple years ago, and that is thanks to the mainstream vehicles entering the market.
In the changing market, ZC Rubber says it is prioritizing SUV tires and creating products to fill all niche segments, including HT, AT and MT.
Richard Li, marketing director, Zhongce Rubber Group Co. Ltd. (ZC Rubber): We realized that SUVs are the fastest growing segment, especially in the U.S. Most people buy SUVs for commute and recreation, and expect tires (that offer) comfort. Consumers are seeking an SUV tire with low noise, fuel savings, long life, short braking distance and, most importantly, a competitive price.
The heavy vehicle weight of SUVs brings high fuel consumption, meaning consumers will be more sensitive about the fuel efficiency of SUV tires. The market expects that the electric SUV (will become) more popular, so new-generation tires must have outstanding performance, in both fuel efficiency and long tire life.