Sixteen is still king (and other things): What are the best-selling performance tires by size? Speed rating? Vehicle? Who's selling HP tires and who's buying them? MTD's High Perfor

Oct. 1, 2007

It may be a cliche, but in the world of high and ultra-high performance tires, the only constant is change. A detailed comparison between Modern Tire Dealer's 2007 High Performance Tire Survey and MTD's 2005 High Performance Tire Survey reinforces that principle.

Take dealership demographics, for example. In 2005, approximately 70% of performance tire dealers who responded to the survey ran single-store operations. By 2007, that percentage had fallen to 60%.

Two years ago, those respondents who had more than one store reported they were running an average of 25.8 locations. This year, that number has risen to 37.9 outlets.

The number of dealers who have added or dropped a high performance tire brand within the last 12 months also has changed. In 2005, more than one-third of respondents to the survey added or jettisoned a brand. That number fell to 20% of respondents in the 2007 survey.

Dealers may be more brand loyal, but survey comparisons show customers aren't necessarily as sure about their own brand preferences.

In 2005, respondents reported that more than 40% of customers do not specify a high performance tire brand at the sales counter. Today about 45% of tire buyers do not specify a brand.


And what about consumer demographics? In this area, it appears that changes have been more gradual. Two years ago, 73% of all high performance tire buyers were male. In 2007, that number only grew by one percentage point.

Segmentation in the age groups that buy performance tires has changed, though very slightly. Overall, in 2005 and 2007, the leading age group of performance tire buyers was 35-49. Coming in second both years was the 50-plus crowd. The two age groups comprised 57% of total performance tire market buyers in 2005; this year's survey saw that number drop to 53%. (The two other age groups who round out the high performance tire buying public are 16-24 and 25-34.)

Sizes, speeds and vehicles

Both surveys analyzed high performance tire sales by wheel diameter and speed rating. The chart at the bottom of this page breaks out tire sales by size in 2007.

Sixteen-inch tires were reported as the top-sellers in the 2007 survey, just like in 2005. But while 15-inch took second place and 17-inch took third place two years ago, in the 2007 survey, 17-inch came in second and 15-inch came in third.

Results also indicate a move away from 15-inch sizes and a trend toward larger diameters. A phone poll of several randomly selected high performance tire dealers underscored these developments:

John Merriman, owner, Specialty Tire of Westborough (Mass.): "We're still doing a lot of 16-inch tires. Sixteens have been popular for a few years now. Seventeens are still popular, and 18s are trickling in."

Gerald Darden, owner, Goldsboro (N.C.) Tire Service Inc.: "Everything now is 16s and 17s. I have a 2004 GMC pickup and it has 17s on it. Sixteen- and 17-inch tires really kicked off a few years ago. Some new pickups are coming with 18s and 19s. I just saw a Lincoln Navigator with 22-inch original tires and wheels on it."

Justin Ellison, owner, City Boys Tire & Brake Inc., High Springs, Fla.: "Most cars come with 16s on them, but a lot of our customers want to plus-size. The two sizes we sell the most are 17 and 20. If somebody comes in looking for 18s, we tell them, 'You can get a set of 20s for what you pay for an 18.'" Charles Morello, Allied Tire & Auto Service, Carson City, Nev.: "I'd say 15 and 16 inches are the most popular (for cars). I'd say 20 inches for pickup trucks and SUVs."


Dave White, A-Plus Tire, San Bernadino, Calif.: "We're selling 20s for SUVs and even smaller applications like cars. We're seeing a lot of 17s and 18s (out of the factory)."

Terry Morris, Terry's OK Tire Store, Milton-Freewater, Ore.: "We're mostly selling 16s and we're seeing more 17s. I recently put a set of 17s on a Mitsubishi; we replaced the wheels, but they were stock size. I've sold some 18s that were OE on cars like BMW and Mercedes performance cars."

The surveys also looked at high performance tire sales by speed rating (see chart for year 2007 results). According to the 2005 survey, two years ago more H-rated tires were sold (55%). That year the rest broke down as follows: V-rated (18%), Z-rated (12%), W-rated (9%) and Y-rated (6%).

A survey-by-survey comparison of performance tire sales by vehicle type also yielded interesting results. In 2007, passenger cars made up 58%; in 2005 they made up a bigger percentage (64%). Back then, light trucks made up 13%; this year's survey pegged light trucks at 18%.

Differences between 2007 and 2005 were less dramatic in the SUV category. Respondents to the 2007 survey said SUVs comprised 16% of the total mix; that's 1% more than in 2005. And the percentage of performance tire sales to crossover vehicles remained the same from 2005 to 2007: 8%.

Dealer wish-list

MTD's 2007 High Performance Tire Survey also asked, "What specifically can be done by tire manufacturers to help you sell more high performance tires?" Two answers tied for first place: product and territory exclusivity, and adequate supply of tires and sizes.

Next dealers wanted lower costs from the manufacturers, followed by, in equal amounts, more and better national advertising to create demand, better point-of-sale materials, more education/training and the creation of increased interest through local advertising.

Supply, lower cost to dealers and local advertising ranked lower in MTD's 2005 High Performance Tire Survey.