Winter Tires Gain Traction -- Get Boost From All-Weather Segment

March 12, 2020

Has the winter tire market been hurt by the growing all-weather segment and four-wheel-drive capabilities of crossover and sport utility vehicles? Not at all, say the tire manufacturers, marketers and distributors who answered Modern Tire Dealer’s questions on the subject.

In fact, demand for winter tires is up, according to several respondents.

“As end consumers become more and more educated on the benefits of winter tires, we’ve noticed a steady increase in winter tire demand year-over-year in both the U.S. and across the globe,” says Terry Smouter, director of sales management for Hankook Tire America Corp.

Pirelli Tire North America Inc. has seen an uptick in demand, too. “The winter tire market is on a growth trend in 2019 in both the passenger and SUV segments,” says Vincent Unanue, senior manager, OE and product, Pirelli North America.

Metrics tracked by Nokian Tyres plc also point to increased use of winter tires in Canada, where all provinces recommend the use of winter tires and some places require them, as well as in the U.S.“In Canada, winter tire usage from consumers has been up pretty consistently over the last five years,” says Steve Bourassa, manager of passenger and light truck products. “Almost 70% of the people in Canada are now using winter tires, and that’s up from closer to 50% five years ago.”

Bourassa says the use of winter tires declined in the U.S. until the end of 2019. “Industry shipments into the U.S. of winter tires in 2019 were higher than in 2018. That’s the first time we’ve seen an increase in a few years.”

The availability of all-weather tires and the shift away from conventional sedans create more, not fewer, winter tire selling opportunities. “All-weather tires take away from an all-season tire versus a winter tire,” says Joe Maher, product manager for Continental Tire the Americas LLC’s passenger and winter tires in the U.S. “The consumer who’s really interested in the best winter performance buys a winter tire.”

Many respondents stressed the need to educate CUV/SUV owners. “It’s important for dealers to educate drivers on the myth that all-wheel-drive vehicles reduce the need for winter tires,” says Will Robbins, senior product manager, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC. “Cornering and braking performance in snow and ice still require the same traction from tires, whether it is a front- or rear-wheel-drive vehicle.”Consumers are gravitating toward CUVs and SUVs for the extra capabilities they believe sedans do not have, notes Abhishek Bisht, global head of new markets and channels for Apollo Tires Ltd., which owns the Vredestein brand.

These capabilities include more offerings with all-wheel-drive, more storage capacity and high ground clearance for visibility. “Dealers need to acknowledge the reasons behind consumer choice and guide the consumer to understand that tires — specifically all-weather and winter — fulfill many of the same demands for increased capability and grip,” he says.

Both winter and all-weather tire markets are alive and well in the CUV and SUV segments, notes Sonny McDonald, national training manager for Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. “If you look at the OE sizes on most of these types of vehicles, the rim diameters are 17-inch and larger, the aspect ratio is 55 or smaller, and the speed/performance is H- or V-rated and higher,” says McDonald.

“Today, many winter tires — but more all-weather tires — are built to match OE specs for load carrying and speed/performance rating in 17-, 18-, 19- and 20-inch rim diameters, which is now typical for today’s CUV/SUV,” he says. “Those unique sizes in specialized products offer a tire dealer greater potential for higher profitability and revenue generation.”

With technology breakthroughs and advancements, many believe all-weather tires are going to edge closer to winter tires in terms of cold-weather performance in the coming years, according to Steven Liu, senior director of proprietary brands at American Tire Distributors Inc., which owns Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. Liu notes that improving the cold-weather performance of all-weather tires would sacrifice other performance attributes during warmer temperatures.“The reality is, in the current state, the balance is swinging wider than ever before,” says Liu. “Not everyone will be completely satisfied with the performance of an all-weather tire, thus pushing the true winter technology further to addressing specific needs at the regional level.”

That’s good news for independents whose dealerships are built around understanding their local market.

According to David Poling, director of tire development and product marketing for Giti Tire (USA) Ltd., “The challenge today is that tire technology has improved so much that our expectations as consumers have grown exponentially regarding the ability to go, stop, and turn in any weather or road condition, as if it is a warm summer day on a dry, smooth road with perfect grip. The reality is there is no one ‘perfect’ tire for all vehicles, roads, climate and weather conditions.”

Winter tire trends

MTD prefaced questions on the impact of all-weather tires and CUV/SUV vehicles on the market by asking for the latest winter tire trends. Here’s what manufacturer representatives said in reply, in alphabetical order of company:

 Who weighed in on winter tires

Seventeen tire manufacturers, marketers and distributors provided a look at the state of the winter tire market. The respondents and their companies are:

  • Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president automotive division, American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. (Kenda)
  • Steven Liu, senior director of proprietary brands, American Tire Distributors Inc. (Hercules)
  • Will Robbins, senior product manager, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC
  • Abhishek Bisht, global head of new markets and channels, Apollo Tires Ltd. (Vredestein)
  • Joe Maher, product manager passenger and winter tires-U.S., Continental Tire the Americas LLC
  • Andrea Berryman, director-product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
  • Sam Choo, product coordinator-winter tires, Falken Tire Corp.
  • Leo Kuo, sales manager, Federal Tire Corp.
  • David Poling, director of tire development and product marketing Giti Tire (USA) Ltd.
  • Ron Henegar, senior product marketing manager-consumer high performance and winter tires, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
  • Terry Smouter, director of sales management, Hankook Tire America Corp.
  • Shawn Denlein, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.
  • Jay Lee, director product planning, Nexen Tire America Inc.
  • Steve Bourassa, manager-passenger and light truck products, Nokian Tyres plc
  • Vincent Unanue, senior manager OE and product, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.
  • Mike Park, product manager, Tireco Inc.
  • Sonny McDonald, national training manager, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.
  • Cameron Parsons, product manager, competition and specialty tires, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.
  • Bob Abram, senior manager of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.

Bisht, Apollo Vredestein: Technology in the segment keeps evolving to provide drivers with less compromise with regards to vehicle dynamics and handling when using winter tires. Where there are severe winters and snowfall with packed snow, drivers want true winter performance. The segment will continue to be significant.

Robbins, Bridgestone: As with many product categories, tire manufacturers continue to face the challenge of delivering maximum product performance while minimizing performance trade-offs. Bridgestone continues to place an emphasis on advancing tire performance across multiple performance attributes. The latest generations of Bridgestone winter tires feature a new tread compound and advanced pattern technologies that offer improvements in snow and ice performance while also offering improved wear and non-winter performance versus their predecessors.

In addition to minimizing performance trade-offs, demand continues to grow for tires that offer year-round use and are certified for severe snow service with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake. These all-weather products provide the benefits of traditional all-season touring tires while also offering enhanced snow performance.

Andrea Berryman, director, product management, Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.: We’ve seen a shift in the last decade toward studless winter tires. Roughly half the winter tire sales in the U.S. and over half in Canada are studless tires. Also, winter tires have become less of a utilitarian purchase as consumers are spending more time researching their winter tire purchase. People are expecting better handling and a quieter, more comfortable ride out of their winter tires, and studless tires, in general, are better at delivering these typically “all-season” characteristics.

Sam Choo, product coordinator-winter tires, Falken Tire Corp.: Winter tire usage is growing in Canada, where consumers are well-educated about the profound benefits of driving on winter tires. TRAC’s (Tire and Rubber Association of Canada) 2019 Canadian Winter Tire Report stated 75% of Canadians used winter tires last year, up 17% from 2014.TRAC largely attributes Canada’s widespread acceptance of winter tires to government regulations, something we now see happening in the U.S.

In 2019, the Utah Department of Transportation passed a regulation requiring the use of traction devices on certain roads, specifically listing 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake-rated tires as an accepted traction device for vehicles below 12,000 GVW.

We see things slowly beginning to change in the States, and laws like this lead us to believe the number of Americans who opt for winter tires will begin to increase in tandem. As is the case with other tire categories, size offerings in the winter segment are getting larger in diameter, due to both the trend in OE fitments and the affordability of aluminum wheels.

Leo Kuo, sales manager, Federal Tire Corp.: Consumers are more interested in all-weather/ four-season tires. Federal Tire is currently offering the Xplora AP with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake.

Poling, Giti: Current trends are improved compounding and tread designs, all-weather, improvements in winter tires, studless winter tire performance similar to studded tires, and improved stud technologies.

Ron Henegar, senior product manager, consumer high performance and winter tires, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: The biggest trend is a focus on improving product performance in cold and snowy conditions.

Smouter, Hankook: We see a demand for a winter tire compound that is more versatile in varying winter road conditions. By that, we mean that in addition to having tread siping and studdability to assist against black ice and snow conditions, customers want a winter tire that is also going to perform adequately under dry conditions where the temperature is at or below freezing. 

Liu, Hercules: Consumers are becoming better educated on the benefits of winter tires and aware that their safety depends on the right tires — not only for snow and ice performance, but also in colder temperatures. The winter tire industry is relatively mature, and the growth of the winter tire market is driven largely by legislation.We are attuned to the compulsory requirements in each regional market and any future changes. Given the developments in the automobile industry and a rise of awareness of traffic safety, we tend to believe the future of winter tires is optimistic. By its nature, winter tire market demand, volume and timing are heavily dependent on weather patterns and severity, making it difficult for manufacturers and distributors to plan. This leads to the burning question: Will the all-weather product be the one-for-all solution? For Hercules winter tires, we are seeing a steady and balanced growth trend in the U.S. and Canada.

Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president automotive division American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd. (Kenda): The biggest trend in the U.S. is the advent of all-weather tires, which will be a strong improvement for most end-users. The majority of winter sales in the U.S. market break into two segments. One is premium performance for higher-end vehicles (CUV, SUV and auto) which can afford designated winter tires and a second set of wheels. The other segment is for entry-level winter in areas that specifically need designated winter tires. There are still value steps for winter, but the volumes are much smaller than in other segments (touring, grand touring, etc.). In Canada, there is a need for more specific applications focusing on ice traction, severe snow, etc.

Shawn Denlein, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Kumho Tire U.S.A. Inc.: Winter tire seasonality is even more dramatic than before now, because the years with heavy winter snowfall have been inconsistent. Consumers are able to keep and use the same winter tires for two or three seasons before replacement. Before there was a steady decline for the industry from 2014 to 2017, then it stabilized in 2018, and went up slightly for 2019.

Sabrina Garofalo, product manager, winter, Michelin North America Inc.: In Canada, the market is continuing to grow and has been over the last five years. Consumers are looking for better traction in winter conditions… the mobility aspect of it. For customers in Nordic-climate areas, winter tires are an effective option.

Jay Lee, director product planning, Nexen Tire America Inc.: During the winter season, many of our customers are looking for all-weather tires to avoid having to switch between summer and winter patterns when the seasons change.

Bourassa, Nokian: Over the last 10 years, there’s been an improvement in winter traction, handling on dry roads, longevity, and reduced noise levels. All in all, the technology has come quite a long way over the last decade to make much better and well-rounded winter tires. All-weathers bring an interesting new element to the tire industry, particularly where we have consumers in the U.S. who live in areas where they tell themselves they don’t get enough snow to justify a set of winter tires. Those are the types of consumers that are very well-positioned and well-placed to be an all-weather consumer.

Unanue, Pirelli: Consumers are realizing winter tires are a safety feature. For this reason, we launched a communications campaign in November, #Below44, designed to educate consumers on why winter tires are critical for anyone who lives in an environment where the temperature regularly drops below 44 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter tires can provide improved braking and traction in winter conditions, be it a rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle. In addition, tires worn below 4/32 inches, although legal to drive, experience longer braking distances and reduced performance in wet or snowy conditions, as there is less space for the water or snow to go.

Mike Park, product manager, Tireco Inc.: M+S designation will not mean much and the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol will be the standard for whether a tire has enough traction to handle snow conditions. There’s also the growing trend in the all-weather tires with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol.

Cameron Parsons, product manager, competition and specialty tires, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: Larger and higher-performance vehicles are being used more in winter conditions than before. This includes luxury and touring vehicles, and even sports cars that owners want to continue driving in the winter seasons. As a result, we’ve seen an uptick in ultra-high-performance-type tires that carry the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake label. These tires are developed to handle the greater weight and power of these types of vehicles, while also delivering cornering and braking characteristics you’d find in a performance tire.

Weather conditions are also changing, with increased average rainfall across the country, making wet performance a major priority. All-weather tires are quickly rising in popularity, due to their ability to run year-round in sunny summers, as well as wet and snowy winters. The all-weather category bundles convenience, affordability and safety in one package, making it an excellent solution for many consumers in areas that experience rain and snow.

Bob Abram, senior manager of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.: Ice traction is a must for marketing premium winter product today. Icy road surfaces present the most challenging driving conditions and are a concern for a large portion of the U.S. — not just the snowbelt.

What about all-weather?

With the advent of all-weather tires, do respondents expect dealers to sell both all-weather and winter tires? Do they find that dealers want to sell and market both? And are tire dealers succeeding in selling both types of tires? Here’s what respondents told MTD.

Bisht, Apollo Vredestein: We find dealers oftentimes are selling all-weather in place of all-season, and not so much replacing a dedicated winter at the point of sale. Dealers are happily selling both within the same screen, with all-weather enabling them to offer the best fit for their consumers’ climate, vehicle and preferences. A good all-weather tire fulfills the “all-season” promise for any dealer and consumer, and by converting to all-weather the end user gets extra capability, confidence and handling across the more inclement conditions when they need it.

Robbins, Bridgestone: This is one of the biggest questions in the industry at the moment. We’ve found the answer can vary based on geography, climate and customer expectations.

For areas with significant snowfall and ice, we still expect traditional winter tires to be an important tire for dealers to stock based on their trusted performance in challenging and unpredictable winter conditions.

In more moderate climates, we expect to see some dealers move from stocking both traditional all-season and winter products to focusing primarily on all-weather products, which are designed to perform across all four seasons.

Maher, Continental: Whether dealers want to sell both is not really something I can speak to, but they do sell both all-weather and winter tires. It seems that all-weather tires are a substitute for a different touring tire or a different kind of passenger tire — not a substitute for winter tires. An all-weather tire in a climate like Boston or Pittsburgh or Cleveland will have an appeal for a consumer buying a touring tire that is capable of going in the snow. While both winter tires and all-weather tires have a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake, the snowflake test is a snow test. There is no ice involved. A soft-compound winter tire typically will be much better in the ice than any of the all-season tires with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake.

Berryman, Cooper: All-weather tires are aimed at a different consumer than winter tires. People who live in the northern U.S. or Canada and are looking for optimal tire performance throughout the year should own two sets of tires: an all-season set and a winter tire set. However, for those customers who are unwilling to store and change an extra set of tires, all-weather tires offer an advantage over all-season and allow you to keep one set of tires on your vehicle year-round.

All-weather tires typically trade off some wet traction in the summer as compared to an all-season tire, and trade off some winter performance in the winter as compared to a dedicated winter tire. But all-weather tires provide a good balance of performance for those unwilling to own two sets of tires. It really comes down to where the consumer lives, whether he or she is willing to purchase an extra set of tires and wheels, and whether they need to be on the road when the weather turns bad.

Choo, Falken: The all-weather segment continues to expand year after year as more and more products are introduced.These tires are an excellent option for consumers who want added winter capability but prefer not to deal with the cost and complications of a second set of wheels and tires. The 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol, and the performance it connotes, is becoming more popular by the day. Utah’s recent regulation points to just how valuable the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol is to manufacturers, dealers and consumers alike. We absolutely see the value in all-weather products, though we acknowledge they simply can’t replace the cold weather performance of true winter tires.

The product offerings of each dealer certainly depend on both their customers’ preferences, as well as their region’s climate. We’ve seen dealers carrying multiple all-weather products among their winter tire offerings, which gives their customers the whole spectrum of options to best fit their needs. However, we believe dealers would prefer to sell a winter/all-season tire combo as opposed to only all-weather, both due to the increase in safety and performance on the road, as well as the opportunity to serve their customers twice per year. As we alluded to above, we believe the winter/all-season or winter/summer combo will almost always be the safest option for consumers, but when convenience and cost are considered, all-weather products can be a fine option.

Kuo, Federal: This is all based on where the dealers are located. We find the dealers in more severe winter weather conditions — (like) heavily snowed areas — are still more willing to carry traditional snow tires. However, in other regions, there’s a shift to carry more all-weather tires.

Poling, Giti: In some extreme winter areas, consumers may need a dedicated winter tire. For those in less extreme areas that still see a good amount of snow but have roads that are regularly plowed, all-weather tires can give those consumers peace of mind.

Inventory management-wise, dealers are not willing to sell and market both tires. Maintaining the inventory for summer, all-season, all-weather and dedicated winter tires — in both studless and studdable/studded — would require a monumental effort in inventory management and knowledge of one’s customer base, something most dealers find a challenge.

It would behoove the dealer to sell only one when thinking about inventory. However, the dealer has to prepare to capture each customer — whether dedicated winter, ice or all-weather — and consider different price points to fit the consumer’s budget. And yes, I would think they are succeeding at selling both.

Henegar, Goodyear: Dealers will continue to sell both all-weather and winter tires because there is a market for both. While some consumers demand the superior level of winter performance that only a true winter tire can provide, others want the versatility provided by all-season tires, including advanced snow traction.  

Smouter, Hankook: Yes, we believe there is room for both segments at tire dealerships in central and northern regions of the U.S. All-weather tires are a great hybrid development with a level of dry compliance seen in all-season tires that is accompanied by a tread arrangement and compounding more closely aligned with winter tires. The severe snow mark inscribed on the sidewall of the tire lets consumers know that this is a more winter-friendly version of an all-season tire. However, this emerging segment is not going to be able to perform at the same level as a dedicated winter tire that is necessary in certain winter regions of the country with consistent winter conditions.Dealers across the U.S. have started to really embrace the all-weather segment, and they are willing to promote both segments to their customers. The all-weather segment has found success with customers who may have not purchased winter tires in the past but are looking for a tire that’s going to prepare their vehicles for the winter weather, more so than a traditional all-season tire would do. With unpredictable winter weather throughout the central to northern U.S., the all-weather tire has found a place on our dealers’ product screen and this is a big reason why Hankook is excited to be introducing an all-weather tire later this year to the U.S. market.

Liu, Hercules: It primarily depends on the geographical region where the dealer is located and the targeted customer demographics. Canada and U.S. markets will need to be looked at under different lenses. We expect to see swapping of units between the all-weather and true winter tires, especially where 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake tires are compulsory, in some regions, whereas true winter tires are very much needed and will continue to strengthen in some areas, with all-weather for the most part serving only as a supplemental solution.

For many dealers, there’s a general perception that all-weather tires are comprised of half a true winter tire, rather than being seen as an all-season tire with better winter traction. While the all-weather tire won’t replace a set of dedicated winter tires for drivers in the northern snowbelt, they are a viable option for anyone who typically uses all-season tires year-round and is looking for improved traction in inclement weather.

We have seen dealers willing to sell and market both and have found successes in both. There are also dealers who pick one over the other and double down. Furthermore, the all-weather categories can be broken down into passenger and light truck, and each has a very different adaptation phase/length of time. The light truck tire category has included some all-weather choices in the marketplace for quite some time. We have witnessed substantial growth and from there, we are noticing line expansion and size coverage into crossover/SUV.

The penetration of the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol has been slower in the passenger car category, given the vehicle capability and usage extension, but we could potentially see a ramp up in the near future.

Stotsenburg, Kenda: This will depend on specific market need. For most geographies, there will be a trend toward all-weather tires as these tires will satisfy the needs for the end user. If they are in an area with higher-end vehicles, they will need to have access to the premium performance tires. There are differences in performance levels for tires marked with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification. There is a standard set to achieve this level, but it is self-certified, and there are tires stamped for winter snowflake which may not truly meet the conditions within certain regions. We suggest that dealers be aware of the brand performance under winter conditions to assure the best fit for their customers.

Denlein, Kumho: In the U.S. areas with heavy snowfall, we do not anticipate much change, such as in the Pacific Northwest and northern Midwest areas. However, we are seeing the impact of all-weather tires, specifically on non-studdable winter tires. We expect dealers to carry the more aggressive studdable winter tires, along with all-weather tires.

Lee, Nexen: We do expect both all-weather and winter tires to be sold. While all-weather capabilities are becoming ever stronger, many parts of the country that experience harsher seasons still require optimal winter performance and summer performance, respectively. That being said, all-weather tires are still increasing in popularity.

Bourassa, Nokian: If you are in or near a northern climate, it’s going to make sense to offer both products.  There are going to be consumers who want the utmost winter traction and a winter tire is going to be that for them. In most areas outside of Quebec, you are also going to have customers who don’t want a tire changeover. They want to use one set of tires year-round and for those customers, the safer option to your typical all-season tire is going to be an all-weather tire. In our experience, the success of all-weather has not been at the detriment of winter. It’s really selling a safer alternative to the all-season tire. Dealers are succeeding in selling both, at least in what we’ve seen. Whether they want to is a different question. Everybody has the same four walls to jam that many more products and SKUs into. It brings a new challenge to the market for dealers and distributors.

Unanue, Pirelli: From what we hear in the market, more extreme winter climates such as the mountains in the West tend to use winter tires as opposed to all-weather tires for added traction and stability. In the Northeast and Midwest, for example, some consumers are experimenting with all-weather tires, and we see the same dealers selling winter tires as well.

Park, Tireco: We expect dealers to sell both all-weather and winter tires, and they are willing to do so and are successful. Winter tire laws, public education and word-of-mouth play a significant part in motivating drivers to use winter tires.

McDonald, Toyo: Tire dealers are willing and wanting to carry both. Tire dealers understand they need to offer a good-better-best scenario for those customers wanting either a winter tire or all-weather. That starts by asking qualifying questions to make the best tire recommendation. One of the questions that a dealer may ask is, “What is the worst driving condition you may face?” If a customer says snow and ice, then ask what level and frequency they drive in those conditions and if they run separate winter tires. Based on the answers, the dealer can offer the good-better-best scenario for that customer for either a winter tire or an all-weather tire.

Abram, Yokohama: Smart dealers will carry both. All-weather tires are ideal for consumers who reside and drive mostly in metro areas, where winter precipitation is heavy and storage options are few. Consumers who need to drive in more rural areas are still better-suited for traditional winter tires, as they need the most winter grip and the snow removal is much less consistent, or at times non-existent, in those areas.

The impact of CUV/SUVs

MTD asked if the shift away from conventional sedans is creating more opportunities for dealers to sell winter tires — and if yes, how dealers can capitalize on them.

Bisht, Apollo Vredestein: All-wheel-drive may help the car start, but does nothing to assist in braking or turning, so consumers need to be politely informed that the tire will make the difference, despite the feeling of security given by all-wheel-drive.

Robbins, Bridgestone: In our experience, vehicle type is not a significant driver of winter tire use. It really comes down to the climate and seasonal driving conditions of each market. Where dealers can create new opportunities in this segment is by educating consumers on the significant benefits of winter tires in snow, ice and other winter conditions. With their specially formulated compounds and unique tread designs that maximize grip and retain flexibility in cold temperatures, winter tires provide the confident performance you need in unpredictable winter weather conditions.

Maher, Continental: It creates a different opportunity. This has to do with the all-wheel-drive vehicle that gets them going, but stopping and turning is really the same as all other cars. It also adds a little bit of a new spectrum because a lot of these vehicles are capable of having an all-terrain tire, which may have a 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake, but is not really a dedicated winter tire. Taking advantage of these opportunities is about educating consumers who are looking for tires that an all-wheel-drive vehicle is not any safer in the winter just because it has all-wheel-drive.

Berryman, Cooper: Whether we’re talking about a sedan or an SUV, original equipment tires continue to be tuned for higher speed ratings or fuel efficiency, often at the expense of winter performance. This creates an opportunity for retailers to explain the benefits of purchasing winter tires to a consumer even before their original equipment tires wear out, allowing the consumer to experience first-hand the performance benefit that winter tires offer when the temperature drops.

Choo, Falken: It’s widely accepted that consumers are transitioning away from traditional sedans and opting for more capable crossovers and SUVs. This is largely due to the added features and advanced driving systems these vehicles offer. However, while many drivers assume vehicles with all-wheel drive have no need for capable winter tires, we know it’s simply not true. A four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive system might help drivers get started out of the snow, but all-wheel drive will make no difference when they suddenly need to slam on the brakes. At this point in time, we believe this is the most valuable opportunity at a tire dealer’s disposal: the opportunity to educate consumers about the need for tires that provide wintertime traction, no matter the system that comes standard with their vehicle.

Kuo, Federal: In our opinion, in regions with less severe winter weather, we think the shift won’t necessarily create more opportunity for dealers in winter tires specifically if the shift means we are now looking at more SUVs and CUVs. They could easily sell more RT (rugged terrain), AT (all terrain), MT (mud terrain) tires and in our opinion, tires with the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol. Dealers located in severe winter weather usually stock up on winter tires since they are required in those areas. That’s why Federal is coming out with a snow truck tire.

Poling, Giti: Sedans and CUVs are usually built on similar platforms and so their tire needs will be similar.  Consumers who own CUVs may be more likely to take them into adventurous areas and so understanding the customer’s needs will be most important for the dealer. Therefore, dealers may have more opportunities for winter tire sales, but there may also be just as many for all-weather, as these tires may better align with the limited adventurous trips. To take advantage of these opportunities, dealers must know their market.

Henegar, Goodyear: Many consumers have a misconception that CUVs have better winter driving capabilities than a conventional sedan. There is a real opportunity for dealers to educate consumers on the importance of winter tires in maximizing the traction and winter driving capability of CUVs. 

Smouter, Hankook: We feel that the trend toward more CUVs, SUVs and light trucks does open up more opportunities for winter tires. Because those types of vehicles traditionally open up more utility opportunities, drivers are more willing to test the limits in winter conditions. Dealers can take advantage of this by assuring their customers that the use of winter tires will maximize the capabilities of the utility vehicles and light trucks in winter conditions.    

Liu, Hercules: Based on the rapid growth in the crossover/SUV-light truck market in the last five years, and all-wheel-drive becoming a common option, yes. When it comes to winter tires, the analogy I would use is tires are like shoes. You need to make sure you have the right set of tires for your vehicle’s intended purpose by design, so in part this means the dealers need to take the extra time and capitalize on the opportunity to identify needs and upsell to the end users.

Education is key. The common misconception is a vehicle equipped with all-wheel-drive is sufficient to deal with snow, slush and ice. An all-wheel-drive vehicle equipped with all-season tires would quickly reach its limits when put in a dynamic situation in inclement winter weather. As dealers’ product stocking mix is becoming more complex, it’s exceedingly critical that dealers gain a better understanding of their respective regional market nature and size, identify growth opportunity through vehicle pull-through and make the proper recommendations based on vehicle capabilities and users’ needs.

Stotsenburg, Kenda: There is a growing need for winter applications for both CUV and SUV, as well as light truck and commercial vans. The application and geography will determine whether the customer can utilize an all-weather tire or will need a winter tire. The increasing volumes will mirror the growing trends for more CUVs versus traditional autos. Dealers should openly display their options and tell end-users in-store and online that they have solutions for their winter needs. Have visuals showing CUVs, SUVs and light trucks in winter conditions. 

Denlein, Kumho: With consumers switching from sedans and coupes to CUV-style vehicles, there are more winter snow severe tire options available and these vehicles mostly come with all-wheel-drive systems. We’re seeing a consumer trend that is undervaluing the importance and difference of a true winter tire versus the all-weather-plus-all-wheel-drive combination.

Garofalo, Michelin: I think it’s an evolution of the market. Instead of providing tires for sedans, now it’s a matter of fitting SUVs and CUVs. When you look at sedans 10 years ago and the size offerings then, sizes have gone up. In order to expand in terms of coverage, we’ve added 18-inch and above sizes. That’s where the growth is, and that trend is consistent in other regions, as well.

Lee, Nexen: The determination for winter tires to be more appropriate is reliant on the weather and terrain conditions more so than the type of vehicle.

Bourassa, Nokian: There’s a false confidence that comes with an all-wheel-drive SUV or CUV. All kinds of tests that we’ve done and independents have done show that when it comes to stopping and cornering, the all-wheel-drive option does not really provide additional benefits and certainly not as many benefits as winter tires do. The reality is CUVs/SUVs are typically larger and heavier than their sedan counterparts, which makes them harder to stop. That’s where consumer education can help people make the right choices for their vehicle.

Unanue, Pirelli: We have seen demand for winter tires for CUVs and SUVs grow as consumers look for ways to improve the safety and stopping distance of their vehicles. Winter tires improve stopping distance and handling in temperatures that regularly drop below 44 degrees Fahrenheit and provide added peace of mind in snow or icy conditions. This is thanks to the directional tread pattern with high sipe density for enhanced grip, wide deep grooves for evacuating snow and slush away from the contact patch for better braking and handling, and a tread compound designed to stay pliable in the cold for enhanced traction.

Park, Tireco: Educate consumers. Drivers not using winter tires believe that all-season tires offer sufficient traction and stopping power in winter road conditions.

Abram, Yokohama: I think it could make it a bit more difficult to sell winter tires, as many consumers will believe their SUV is better-suited for inclement weather than a car, especially if their vehicle has all-wheel-drive. Those customers should be reminded that all-wheel-drive can’t stop the vehicle if the tires don’t have the necessary snow or ice grip.    ■

About the Author

Ann Neal

Ann Neal is a former senior editor at Modern Tire Dealer.

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