Why - And How - UHP Tires Continue to Evolve

March 7, 2023

Long gone are the days where performance tires — and performance-minded consumers — are only tuned into speed and steady handling.

Original equipment (OE) vehicle manufacturers are demanding more out of the high performance (HP) and ultra-high performance (UHP) tires they outfit on their vehicles and those widening demands are trickling down to the replacement market.

The result is a diverse assortment of performance-minded products. There are summer performance tires, all-season performance tires and all-weather performance tires. And as the car parc has evolved, all of these tires have to fit a wider assortment of vehicles, too.

We turned to tire manufacturers to ask what’s happening at the OE level today and what’s coming down the pike tomorrow. Tiremakers also provided tips to help dealers increase their share of the HP and UHP tire markets.

MTD: What are original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) asking for in the next generation of performance tires?

Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president, automotive division, American Kenda Rubber Co. Ltd.: OEMs’ volumes are trending toward CUV/small SUV and electric vehicle (EV) applications for performance tires as vehicles in North America continue to shift away from traditional performance sedans, minivans and sports cars. Tire performance needs will vary by specific application, but key issues will be for lower weights while enhancing carcass construction for higher torques.

There will also be an ongoing need for maintaining specific criteria around dry/wet handling and dry/wet braking, while meeting additional targets for both noise and rolling resistance. One of the additional trends which will continue is the push for higher rim diameters with increased volumes going to 19, 20 and 21 inches, depending on the platform, with some of the CUV/SUV vehicles requiring 22-inch (tires).

Ian McKinney, senior product manager, Bridgestone Americas Inc.: OEMs are continuing to ask for improved levels of wet and dry traction, steering precision and stopping distance from performance tires. Also as automakers continue to produce more luxury cars and sports sedans fitted with performance tires, there has been a desire for improved levels of ride comfort and noise.

Current trends like vehicle electrification and overall sustainability require that performance improvements don’t trade off tire rolling resistance capability. In addition, OEMs are continuing to increase the speed rating requirements of their fitments. Performance tires that top out at a V speed rating are becoming less common, while a W or higher speed rating is now the norm.

Nate Dodds, performance tire product manager, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: While performance requirements vary from OEM to OEM, manufacturers are often asking for increased grip in both dry and wet, as well as improved efficiency in terms of tire rolling resistance.

David Poling, director of tire development and product marketing, Giti Tire (USA) Ltd.: When we talk about performance tires, we need to properly clarify exactly what we are talking about. Performance tires can be generally broken down into HP and UHP. We would define HP being H- and V- speed rated and UHP being W-, Y- and Z-rated.

Beyond that initial separation, we have both summer and all-season products, with each of the products existing on a continuum. Summer tires can be generally divided into regular summer performance and extreme summer performance. Regular summer tires are focused on good dry and wet grip with a UTQG rating 300 or above. These tires are also generally the OE type of tires.

Extreme performance tires are focused on maximum dry grip with UTQG ratings 200 and below. These tires are often used on the track, as well. All-season tires come in touring variants with up to W speed ratings, as well as UHP all-season versions that extend all the way to Y speed ratings with a focus on maximum wet and dry performance. Many of the OE fitments for North America are all-season in H-, V- and W-speed ratings, with the trend moving up along with the higher rim diameter trends.

What are OEMs looking for in a HP or UHP tire? With such a wide array of options, the answer lies in the essence of what the vehicle is and what the consumer expects the car to deliver. Many standard sedans and CUVs will come with both HP and UHP tires and options for all season or summer, but generally their focus will be comfort and rolling resistance, with some level of handling performance that is commensurate with the expectations of the target owners. Then there are the true high-performance cars, which will generally come with UHP summer tires. The OE focus will be all about wet and dry handling performance because that is what their customers expect.

Chris Magana, vice president, OE consumer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: As OEMs shift from internal combustion engines to electrification, we are responding with performance tires that meet the demands of their vehicles. The OEMs are designing vehicles with larger rim diameters and higher load carrying capabilities and we match their designs with performance tires to deliver the driving experience the consumer wants. Our technology team is also continuing to innovate the features — rolling resistance, SoundComfort technology and sealants — of our performance tires to meet the OEM designs.

Moonki Cho, product manager, Hankook Tire America Corp.: High-speed response and braking performance were previously the main requirements for performance tires. Now as vehicle technology continues to advance, there are more demands for high performance tires.

High-speed reliability, a quiet ride, and increased mileage are all qualities that OEMs desire for the next generation of performance tires. As such, tire manufacturers will continue inventing tires that best meet the needs of OEM vehicles.

Mary Ma, vice president of operations, Keter Tire USA Inc.: They want products that work in sync with their vehicles — better wet traction, smoother ride, quietness and high-speed cornering, to name a few. OEM engineers are now so in tune with tire technology, they actually build tire performance into their vehicles.

Mark Lin, OE account manager, Maxxis International – Canada: Tire design is a very complex process. One major reason for that complexity is the fact that tires need to perform in a wide range of conditions. The OEMs provide specific engineering targets for tire makers, such as Maxxis. Some targets may be more difficult than others to achieve, but it’s up to us to find ways to ensure the tire fits within the requested performance parameters.

Designing a high performance tire is no different, except that the targets may be skewed more toward dry performance at the expense of other criteria. The OEMs may also specify a summer tire compound instead of an all-season to further improve dry performance.

However, due to increasingly stringent fuel economy requirements, noise, vibration, harshness and rolling resistance continue to be important criteria. If tires are to be fitted on a battery electric vehicle, one of the first concerns is the tire’s ability to support a significantly higher vehicle load compared to a gas-powered vehicle. This is why when it’s time for the original tires to be replaced, the same OEM-specified tire or a tire rated for EV use should always be selected as a replacement.

Ed Gliss, OE/UHP product category manager, Michelin North America Inc.: Present and next-generation performance vehicles now have various propulsion method options — the traditional internal combustion engine, hybrid powertrains and of course, pure electric. Regardless of those methods, OEMs are not asking for performance tires that are dramatically different from years past.

Rolling resistance — or the efficiency of the tire — is now a metric that comes up more often during the development process. However, traditional metrics like peak grip, lateral firmness, steering precision and wet traction remain relevant.

Jason Yard, marketing manager, Nexen Tire America Inc.: Each OEM is different, but all OEMs are looking for well-rounded tire performance. Reduced rolling resistance and lower NVH levels continue to be high on the priority list, but not at the expense of other performance (attributes), like stopping distance or snow traction.

For performance models, we see OEMs skewing the balance of performance towards handling and higher wet and dry grip levels, as you would expect. There is not really a next generation of performance tires. Rather there is a continuous evolution, with the goal of expanding the total performance envelope.

Oosthuizen Andre, head of consumer and trade marketing, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.: Performance tires are changing just as the modern definition of performance is also changing. OEMs are still searching, in some cases, for max performance tires in the traditional sense — maximum mechanical grip in order to optimize vehicle speed and track performance, with increasingly larger and larger wheels sizes.

However more and more we are seeing performance tire requests to include low rolling resistance, low noise levels and a high degree of safety — wet and snow — performance. It is no longer good enough, in most cases, for tires to simply be fast. They must also balance the relevant attributes of that performance vehicle, which are increasingly becoming electrified.

Jared Lynch, director of U.S. sales, Sailun Tire Americas: The performance tire in the last decade has made a lot of progress in traction and handling. So how do we evolve from there? (OEMs) want tires to give them that same level of traction (and) that same level of handling, but to increase longevity. Can you double that tread life? That’s really where performance tires are starting to go.

Five or six years ago, you saw a lot of UHP all-season (tires) that emulated the performance of a summer tire — with tread life of 30,000 to 35,000 miles. Now fast forward five more years and that’s not good enough anymore. Can we push it closer to 50,000 miles? When we get to 50,000 miles, I’m sure they’ll want 70,000 or 80,000 (miles).

David Pulla, national sales manager in Canada, Sailun: We’ve seen the touring tire become V-rated where it’s entering that high performance category. With that said, and with increasing the speed rating, (they) want to maintain longevity where that (tire) is lasting the equivilant, if not longer, than a touring tire.

Nick Gutierrez, sales director, Sentury Tire USA: With increased fuel prices, consumers want efficiency and this means that rolling resistance matters. The highest standards of quality and durability are a given, but I think OEMs are also expecting great support for the consumer, like easily accessible information regarding where to purchase replacement tires and what the warranties are.

Kyle Sanders, category management director, TBC Brands LLC: With the evolution of vehicle performance over the last decade, many OEMs are requiring steering precision, maximum handling, responsiveness and braking, with higher speed ratings.

Andrew Hoit, executive vice president, brand division, Tireco Inc.: The evolution in vehicle categories and performance is expanding OE specs. CUV and EV market share continues to grow year-over-year and we also know that CUV and EV specs are different compared to the traditional passenger vehicles in the same class. One noticeable difference is that CUVs and EVs weigh more, so the vehicle’s weight can put more stress on the tires.

Through the evolution of growth in other non-traditional passenger vehicles, there is a growing want for a passenger tire with the ability to carry higher load (and) provide higher fuel efficiency, without sacrificing ride comfort.

Joaquin Gonzalez Jr., president, Tire Group International Inc. (TGI): The horsepower wars are back. Most entry-level consumer cars today have the horsepower world-class supercars had 20 years ago. With increased power comes the desire for better handling and a more sporty response. Meanwhile, technology, increasing size and mandated safety features have all contributed to increased curb weight. Putting all that power to the ground, especially with EVs’ instant torque — while maintaining desirable handling characteristics — is what OEMs demand of modern tires.

As designers, manufacturers and distributors of tires, our job is to deliver tires that can tick all those boxes. Today’s tire must keep up with today’s high-tech cars to deliver more grip, traction, cornering and dry braking performance than ever before.

Chris Tolbert, director of sales, Trimax Tire Corp.: Better overall performance, with less noise and better braking. With more electric vehicles on the road, performance tires must be XL-rated to handle additional weight requirements.

Richard Li, global marketing director, Zhongce Rubber Group. Co. Ltd. (ZC Rubber): OEMs are clearly concentrating more on the rolling resistance of the tire for electric vehicles, while yet providing outstanding handling and durability. Our attention is also on low rolling resistance and good handling performance for tires of current internal combustion engines since increasingly strict Chinese environmental restrictions are pushing the automotive sector to develop cars with reduced fuel consumption and lower emissions.

Therefore, our current development priorities for the performance tire include reduced rolling resistance and high handling. At the same time, we are still paying special attention to the tire’s price and quietness.

MTD: What advice do you have for tire dealers who want to sell more HP and UHP tires in 2023?

Stotsenburg (American Kenda): Dealers need to promote their expertise in understanding the specific performance and value needs for each consumer better than alternate channels. There are often many performance options available which will meet the basic load index and speed rating required. You want to match the individual needs to assure the best performance with access to different products and brands available.

Take the time to communicate and discuss what (the customer) liked and lacked from previous tires on the vehicle. For 2023, a larger percentage of performance customers are experiencing financial stress due to outside factors, but (they) will not want to sacrifice performance and safety. Be ready to discuss options to help them get the best product to fit their needs.

Michael Mathis, president, Atturo Tire Corp.: Our advice to dealers who want to grow their UHP business is to take two steps. First, actively engage in your local enthusiast community. That may include visits and sponsorship of a drag strip, attending car shows or inviting a car club to hold a meet in your parking lot. Next, make sure your sales team is trained to look for opportunities to suggest a UHP tire.

When the owner of a vehicle like a Charger or Challenger comes into the shop for tires, don’t just default to offering the same all-season tire the car came with as OE. Talk to the customer about what they like about their car and uncover that opportunity to suggest a UHP upgrade. If done right, you send a customer out the door with a tire that better enhances the performance and enjoyment of their vehicle.

McKinney (Bridgestone): Consumers who purchase high performance and ultra-high performance tires are looking to achieve a more spirited, sporty driving experience with minimal tradeoffs. We are constantly designing new high performance and ultra-high performance tires featuring the latest technology that have the features these buyers are looking for — like sporty handling, responsive cornering and improved lap time — without compromising performance. The new Firestone Firehawk AS V2 is a prime example of this.

Additionally, we recently expanded the Potenza line of ultra-high performance tires with the Potenza RE-71RS. This ultra-high performance tire is designed with track day, autocross and endurance race drivers in mind to deliver improved corner grip and faster lap times without sacrificing an extended wear life.

As the high performance and ultra-high performance segment evolves, tire dealers who want to sell more of these in 2023 should continue to focus on understanding each customer’s individual wants and needs in order to match them to the best option based on their key features. While speed will always be a top consideration, buyers are expecting much more out of their high performance and ultra-high performance tires today than ever before in terms of ride comfort, safety, and performance within specific climates and road conditions.

Dodds (Continental): My advice to dealers in 2023 would be to continue to look for potential HP and UHP tire customers in the ever-growing luxury sport SUV segment. As well, focus on customers of EVs looking to replace their current tire with a more performance-focused option.

Poling (Giti): The best advice for dealers who want to sell more HP and UHP tires in 2023 is to understand the needs of the particular vehicle and the desires of the customers, so those two things can be matched up with the appropriate tire. Sometimes the customer wants to shift the focus from the original OE tire characteristics. This could come in the form of improved treadwear or maybe the car has summer tires on it and they want to drive in colder conditions which will require an all-season tire. And sometimes they want to maximize the performance of the car beyond the original OE tire, which is where an extreme summer tire, like our GT Radial SX2 RS, would be the perfect fit since it has been proven at the track in Formula Drift competition. Customers looking for these types of tires are high tire-IQ buyers, so know your product offerings inside and out.

Renee Radabaugh, vice president, channels and categories, Goodyear: The performance category continuously provides opportunities for enhanced dealer profitability. To capitalize on these performance category opportunities, a combination of a balanced core assortment that is supported by a responsive supply chain for the more exotic sizes is key to success.

As there are many sub-categories to the performance market, it’s key to understand the diverse consumer needs. Asking the right questions at the sales counter supports making the right recommendation.

Cho (Hankook): There is a wide variety of vehicles that can be fitted with HP and UHP tires, from smaller cars to CUVs, as well as regular and tuning models. As a result, dealers should identify their customers’ vehicles and tire sizes to better recommend products that are designed specifically for their vehicle.

Ma (Keter): Our dealers already know this, but they need to understand the customer and their needs. Also (emphasize) service, service, service. This creates a positive customer experience and that’s what brings them back.

Gliss (Michelin): Like any customer, you want to qualify them to understand what they are looking for. Dealers will want to make sure their staff is trained and prepared to explain the benefits of a dedicated UHP summer tire compared to an UHP all-season tire and what the difference is in performance. Lastly, having key sizes in stock always helps drive more sales.

Yard (Nexen): Most manufacturers have a good, better and best offering, which allows dealers to choose two or three selections for their customers. There is not one high performance tire for every application, so it’s important to note the features and benefits between high mileage, all-around performance, extreme traction for the enthusiast and the value option for the price-conscious.

Andre (Pirelli): In order to sell more HP and UHP tires, our customers must understand the value they receive by choosing HP and UHP tires. Today’s UHP tires combine ride comfort with the best possible performance in wet and dry conditions. Whether in spirited driving or in a safety situation like a panic brake, UHP tires will allow the vehicle to perform at its peak.

With Pirelli’s “perfect fit strategy,” the tailor-made, OE marked tire will provide the best possible performance for a customer’s vehicle. When a customer knows that, they will be willing to pay a premium for the best performing tire to bring out the best performance from their vehicle.

Lynch (Sailun): Educate your counter staff so they know what questions to ask, so they can give the best tire for that particular driver. But what’s equally important is you want to have a strong product mix — not only important, more than ever, that you have a strong value-tier brand. You can save your customers a lot of money and that resonates and means a lot to so many consumers, especially when their tires might only be lasting 25,000 to 30,000 miles.

When you get down to the value tier, understand what value tier manufacturer you’re working (with.) There are some incredible value-tier tire manufacturers like Sailun that do the R&D, they do the research, they spend years on these tires and then they bring them to customers at a fraction of the cost.

Gutierrez (Sentury): Our recommendation for tire salespeople would be (that) simple tech tools could make all the difference. Utilize the tools tire brands like Sentury offer to your advantage. For example, Sentury Tire USA brand websites have practical tools like tire finders, plus-sizing solutions, staggered fitment finders and other helpful info. These tools make research easy and less time-consuming. We do this in consideration of the consumers and salespeople alike.

Tsuyoshi Johnson, product manager for Falken PCR tires, Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc. (SRNA): It’s important that tire dealers have a strong understanding of every tire segment and what each one offers in order to properly service their customers’ needs.

Today’s high performance and ultra-high performance tires are no longer reserved for performance enthusiasts. Anyone looking for improved overall safety behind the wheel can benefit from these tires’ enhanced dry and wet capabilities. Plus, with longer tread life, improved ride quality and enhanced light snow performance, these products are now suitable for a wider range of consumers. This is largely due to manufacturers’ emphasis on using more advanced technology to develop these tires versus your standard touring tires. For these reasons, we believe aUHP all-season tire like our Azenis FK460 is a great option for drivers who expect a high-performing tire in all aspects.

Sanders (TBC): In today’s market, performance vehicles are driving the need for higher speed ratings and capabilities. Working with your customers, understand their needs and determine the best tire to optimize and meet these requirements.

Hoit (Tireco): Educating customers about the features and benefits is a key component to selling more HP and UHP tires. I also believe there’s a big advantage to monitoring vehicle trends that are coming in for service. Dealers can use this data to make improvements to their inventory level with better product mix.

Gonzalez (TGI): High performance tires are no longer a luxury priced out of range for the average consumer. Dealers should have brands in their portfolios that provide consumers options to increase their fitments and speed ratings, while delivering value.

More and more OEMs are abandoning the traditional OE touring tires for a more robust and performance-driven option, with V or higher speed ratings. When it comes time to replace the first set of tires on a new vehicle, consumers will look for options with similar, manufacturer recommended or even better speed rating and driving characteristics. Consumers look to tire dealers to provide those options. And if those options are absent at their preferred tire dealer, consumers will likely go elsewhere.

Kevin Arima, senior manager, consumer products and technical services, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.: It’s always good to know your customer and understand how they plan to use their vehicle. Factors such as their performance needs, budget, how long they plan to keep their vehicle, etc., will help to recommend which HP/UHP tire is best-suited for the customer.

For example, if you have a customer that wants to get new wheels while enhancing the performance of their ride, then a tire like our Proxes Sport A/S may be suitable. Understanding the trends and what vehicles are owned in your area will ensure that you have ample inventory for replacement HP/UHP sizes.

Tolbert (Trimax): Please be proactive in communicating with your tire distributors and tire manufacturer sales representatives on updated information. There are so many ever-changing fitments, speed ratings, features and benefits to make sure the proper tire fitment exceeds customer expectations and prevents customer issues.

Drew Dayton, senior product planning manager for consumer tires, Yokohama Tire Corp.: Qualifying your customer’s performance requirements is key for determining what type of HP or UHP tires would be the best fit. If they want a high-performance tire that can also be driven in inclement weather, an all-season tire such as our the Advan Sport A/S+ is the best. If the customer wants a tire for maximum wet and dry performance with no chance of driving in the snow or freezing temperatures, a summer tire such as our Advan Apex would be a great fit. For the customer who wants maximum performance for auto-x or track events, our A052 fits the bill. Having expert knowledge on performance and performance tradeoffs will give the customer confidence in your recommendations

Li (ZC Rubber): Chinese tires are getting better every year and ZC Rubber’s tires, for instance, have consistently performed exceptionally well in reputable testing. We anticipate that in the future, tire retailers will provide Chinese tires with greater opportunities. 

About the Author

Joy Kopcha | Managing Editor

After more than a dozen years working as a newspaper reporter in Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, Joy Kopcha joined Modern Tire Dealer as senior editor in 2014. She has covered murder trials, a prison riot and more city council, county commission, and school board meetings than she cares to remember.