Big Trends in Winter Tires

March 11, 2024

For many consumers, the world of winter tires can be a complicated one to understand and with the rise of all-weather tires, it may get even more complicated.  

MTD recently asked tire manufacturers to discuss the latest winter tire trends and technologies and if they see all-weather tires impacting winter tire sales. (Most respondents said they believe winter tires make up less than 2% of the U.S. replacement passenger tire market.)

MTD: What new trends or technology are you seeing in the winter tire segment?

Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of automotive division, American Kenda Rubber Co. Ltd.: The North American winter tire industry has been changing based on the recent differences in the climate, with temperature and snow totals deviating from established norms from the last 50 years. It has also been influenced by updates in technologies which now allow all-season tires to match many of the characteristics necessary for most winter performance needs.  

Kenda has a different approach for the United States and Canadian markets. In the U.S., Kenda believes most consumers will have their winter driving needs met by utilizing four-season (4S) tires offering 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMS) certification. In most parts of the U.S., winter has lower temperatures with slush, enhanced rain and intermittent ice and snow. Kenda offers its Vezda Touring 4S for small SUV and performance touring cars. 

In addition to the four-season products offered in the U.S., Kenda will be offering dedicated winter tires for the Canadian market that has more severe winter conditions and more need for those tires.

Karl Jin, divisional head, product and pricing, PCLT, Apollo Tyres Ltd. (Vredestein): Tire companies are continually working to improve winter tires by focusing on safety, tread wear, sustainability and driving experience. Some of the advancements in material research include advanced silane, bio-based oils, hydrocarbon resins, special types of silica and sustainable materials. Design-based technologies like 3D sipes and innovation in tread patterns are also being employed to enhance winter tire performance.

Ian McKenney, senior product manager, Bridgestone Americas Inc.: Since the 1980s when studded tires were outlawed in Japan and parts of the U.S., the winter tire industry has continued to focus on innovation in order to not compromise on performance when developing non-studded versions. Bridgestone has solidified itself at the forefront of winter tire innovation, and our Blizzak tire line remains an industry leader today because of our specialized design technology. 

Blizzaks feature Bridgestone’s patented Multicell Technology, which removes the thin layer of water from ice, allowing the rubber to grip the ice. This technology is comprised of next-generation compounds that feature silica enhancements, improving grip on snow and ice.  

Additional key features of the Blizzak line are its 3D zigzag sipes with block stiffness control. The interlocking sipes on the tire tread provide the biting edges needed for winter performance while maintaining the pattern’s stiffness. Its block stiffness control allows lateral stability and performance in snow, ice, wet and dry conditions. 

We are currently investigating smart technology/sensors and their value across all tire segments. Developing this technology could assist in tracking things like tire pressure, temperature, tire revolutions, etc. However, at present, there isn’t a high level of demand for this type of technology among general consumers.  

We do see smart technology/sensors in the commercial space today, but as an industry we’re still working to develop a compelling value proposition for this type of technology among consumer tires, including the winter segment.

Philipp Schrader, product manager for touring and U.S. winter tires, PLT, Continental Tire the Americas LLC: Sensor technology is certainly something we monitor closely. In the passenger and light truck segments, this will most likely be driven by OEM requirements moving forward.

Lou Monico, vice president of sales, Giti Tire Canada: The winter tire industry is being influenced by smart technology, consumer preferences and the need to adapt to extreme weather events and changing climate patterns. The integration of sensors and smart technology in tires is a significant trend, along with a focus on improving fuel efficiency and traction to meet consumer demands and address environmental concerns.

Michiel Kramer, director of product marketing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.: The definition of what it means to be a winter tire has changed. Consumers are asking for more out of their winter tires and Goodyear is bringing new technology and innovation to the market in response. Consumer needs are less about the back woods, off-roading applications with deep, deep snow and more about handling and control during a wide variety of snowy, icy, slushy and even wet conditions that consumers meet between the mountains and their homes. The new Goodyear Ultra Grip Performance 3 tire, available in fall 2024, features a directional tread pattern to disperse water and slush out the side of the tire to increase grip in wet and slushy conditions.  

Studdable tires continue to represent a significant, important portion of the snow tire market. Driven by consumer needs and regulations, the need for a premium studdable winter tire continues to be an important driver of new technology and tire design.

Moonki Cho, product manager, Hankook Tire America Corp.: Studded tires have become more and more popular, especially in northern Europe, with over-run regulations. For optimal performance, studded tires with specific winter technology are expected to be on the horizon and introduced in the North American market. Smart technology has shown its strength for tire products across various segments, not only winter tires. Integrating sensors along with other tire systems allows further tire technological analysis and development, enabling continued opportunities to refine the segment and improve performance for drivers.

Jay Lee, product marketing manager, Nexen Tire America Inc.: In regards to eco-friendly materials, there's a growing interest to develop winter tires using more environmentally friendly materials. Manufacturers are exploring ways to make sustainable alternatives when it comes to traditional tire components. On the subject of improved tread designs, ongoing research and development has enabled more efficient and effective tread patterns for winter tires. Those designs aim to improve traction on snow and ice, as well as enhance overall performance in cold conditions. 

Some manufacturers are even exploring the use of nanotechnology to enhance the properties of rubber compounds in winter tires. This can lead to improved grip, durability and overall performance in challenging winter conditions.

However, due to environmental concerns and regulations in some regions, there is a shift toward developing non-studded winter tires. This is so tires can provide excellent traction on icy surfaces without the use of metal studs.

As for smart-tire technology, integration of smart technologies into winter tires — such as sensors that provide real-time information on tire pressure, temperature, and road conditions — has been a trend. This helps to enhance safety and performance. There's also a shift toward utilizing digital platforms and connectivity. Integrating features such as tire monitoring apps that provide real-time information about road conditions are becoming more common.

Steve Bourassa, director of products and pricing, Nokian Tyres Inc.: The industry’s advance from snow tires to winter tires was relevant then and even more important today as we match tires to the extreme weather variability we see today. Luckily, advances in material technology, modeling simulation and more have allowed us to build winter tires that can get better in ice grip, rolling resistance and wet grip in each generation. These technologies create a more well-rounded winter tire to tackle today’s weather extremes and variable conditions.

Ian Coke, chief technical officer, Pirelli Tire North America Inc.: The winter segment is in part following the same trend as the rest of the market in terms of electric vehicle (EV) rim size. EV vehicles — with all their particular requirements — also require winter tires in certain climates and this therefore leads to the use of low rolling resistance compounds, as well as noise cancellation foam able to operate and perform in low temperatures.

Jared Lynch, director of sales, PLT, Sailun Tire Americas: Sailun continuously focuses on innovating and improving (its) winter tire tread designs and compounds, so current generations of Sailun winter tires last longer while still delivering superior traction and handling on snow, ice and dry roads.  

Smart technologies like tire pressure monitoring systems and forward-collision warning systems should increase safety for consumers, too. Paired with modern winter tire tread compounds and tread designs, these smart technologies will provide consumers with extremely reliable winter traction, handling and overall safety during winter driving.

Chris Tolbert, director of sales, Trimax Tire: Changes in air pressure, compounds, etc.

Kyle Sanders, director of product marketing and category management for TBC Corp.: Winter tires are being embedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips and sensors, which has numerous implications for vehicles. RFID tags can store helpful information like the tire make and size, making it easily identifiable, further accelerating the trend toward automation.

MTD: What consumer preferences are influencing the design and performance characteristics of winter tires?

Stotsenburg (American Kenda): From a performance perspective, Kenda has done extensive research that determined consumers strongly prefer four-season tires that will allow them to have the same performance in the summer as they expect in the winter. When they learn they can have enhanced wet performance while maintaining strong dry braking and wear, many consumers across the U.S. were interested in those attributes.  

For aesthetics, Kenda’s research determined that consumers strongly prefer a symmetric or asymmetric tread design over a directional design. Kenda has relied on our Technical Center’s proprietary capabilities to design tires which look like all-season grand touring tires with the enhanced performance.

The tires need to match the speed ratings required for year-round driving, while providing the wear and look that will satisfy the majority of consumers.

Jin (Apollo/Vredestein): Consumer preferences are driving the increasing demand for winter light truck tires and those featuring the ice rating symbol, which indicates superior performance in severe winter and icy conditions. This trend reflects the necessity for vehicles to be operational in heavy snow and challenging weather conditions, making it crucial to equip them with genuine winter tires to ensure optimal safety and performance. 

To help consumers choose the right tire for their driving conditions, winter tires are marked with snow grip and ice grip markings.

Performance winter tires are marked with 3PMS, indicating they are designed and certified to perform in severe snow conditions.  

Performance winter tires are preferred for temperature ranges from 10 degrees Celsius to minus-20 degrees Celsius.

Ice/snow winter tires are marked with 3PMS and ICE markings, indicating they are designed and certified for snow grip and ice grip. They are the right choice for drivers who may face extremely low temperatures (up to minus-40) and icy conditions.

McKenney (Bridgestone): With the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles today, we expect to see winter tire design evolve to adhere to EVs’ specific operating conditions in snowy and icy conditions. For example, since EVs are considerably heavier than ICE vehicles, that impacts driving characteristics like braking and turning. We can anticipate ongoing innovations aimed at reducing rolling resistance, preserving range, extending wear life and mitigating noise performance specific to EVs and winter tires in the future.

Schrader (Continental): Snow and ice traction, along with braking capabilities in inclement weather, are certainly the top performance requirements for winter tires. Our compounding technologies continue to evolve to meet the needs of our customers in severe winter weather conditions. Along with compounding, we develop innovative and effective tread patterns that offer increased traction in ice, snow and wet road conditions.

Kramer (Goodyear): At Goodyear, we think through the various winter driving conditions and work to create tires to address those unique challenges to meet the needs of consumers. The deciding (of) which winter tire is right for (the customer) should include matching the tire’s capabilities with the type of winter weather (they) typically encounter.

Cho (Hankook): Today’s winter tires are typically designed with a V-shape tread pattern to meet the performance needs in snow and icy conditions. By also implementing wider lateral grooves, this enables better water displacement, as temperatures can fluctuate and increase standing water potentials throughout the season. This, along with consumer demand for enhanced tread life in their tires, has influenced the development of new products, including our recently launched Winter i*cept iZ3 tire, now available for preorder.

Lee (Nexen): Consumer preferences play a crucial role in shaping the design and performance characteristics of winter tires. For example, consumers prioritize safety in winter-driving conditions. They often look for winter tires that perform well in a variety of winter conditions, including snow, ice, slush and wet roads. On the manufacturing side, manufacturers focus on developing tread patterns and compounds that enhance safety in winter weather. Versatility is a key consideration and tire designs aim to provide consistent performance across different surfaces. 

Consumers also look for durability and longevity as they want value out of their winter tires. Key features like longer lifespan and improved wear resistance all contribute to better longevity and provide value over the life of the tire. 

Lastly, consumers demand a quiet and comfortable ride experience: winter tires that offer a smooth and quiet ride, especially on dry roads.

Bourassa (Nokian): Consumers are less likely to choose a product that works well in only one condition. Consumers want the ultimate safety and traction in the worst weather conditions, but are not willing to sacrifice the other days. They want comfortable and quiet, with good dry grip, OE style and handling and good wet grip for safety on warmer/wet days.

Coke (Pirelli): Specifically for winter tires, it would be the performance attributes. If I am buying a winter tire, it is because I don’t want to compromise safety or performance. This means winter tires have been specifically designed to combat the challenges of cold, wet, snow and ice conditions (with) compounds designed to operate and maintain grip in cold and snow, (plus) tread design using 3D sipes, which maximize the gripping edge, as well lock in snow for extra grip.

Lynch (Sailun): New vehicles use larger rim diameters (18-inch) and lower-profile tires when compared to previous models. While aesthetically pleasing, these larger wheels and lower profile tires create a stiffer, less comfortable and noisier ride. As a result, consumers want quieter and more comfortable winter tires, along with improved winter traction. When designing modern winter tires, comfort, noise levels, longevity and traction must all be prioritized.

Tolbert (Trimax):The growth of all-wheel drive vehicles, CUV, SUV and light duty trucks (and) continued evolution of compound changes, especially with the changes of weather patterns.

Sanders (TBC): Consumers expect improved acceleration, handling and braking of their vehicles in winter conditions.

Kevin Nguyen, manager of product planning, Yokohama Tire Corp.: Consumer preferences for winter tires have remained consistent. They are looking for tires that are designed specifically to confidently handle all types of winter conditions.

MTD: Do you think the rise of all-weather tires will impact the winter tire segment in the long-term?

Stotsenburg (American Kenda): Kenda considers four-season tires to be appropriate winter tires in most North American climates and geographies. We absolutely see these tires as a more appropriate solution for the reasons previously described. However, dedicated winter tires have a specific purpose and should be available across the markets for applications that require their enhanced performance. Kenda does not see them going away.

Jin (Apollo/Vredestein): In the last five years, there has been a shift in the tire market where all-weather tires have grown in demand, while winter tires have seen a decline. Although this trend might suggest that all-weather tires have replaced winter tires, it is not that simple. A closer look at the data shows that a significant volume of all-weather tires are also being sold in areas with little or no snowfall, such as California and Texas. So while it is true that all-weather tires have taken some of the market share from winter tires, this is not the complete story. Other factors, such as the amount of snowfall and when it occurs, can significantly impact the sales of winter tires.

McKenney (Bridgestone): Looking at data from 2019 to today, the percentage of winter tires sold has remained steady each year. However, 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake rated all-season tires are a growing trend. As technology has improved, there’s been a rapid adoption of these types of products by consumers. These tires are generally displacing the traditional touring/highway all-season tire more than any other tire category. 

Dedicated winter tires will continue to have their place in the market, though, as they provide an even more robust solution for ice and snow in areas that get heavy winter weather. But for consumers in areas that see occasional light to moderate snow, 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake rated all-season tires (or all-weather) products are a great solution.

Schrader (Continental): Some winter tire sales will surely transition to all-weather products, especially in areas of the country that receive less snowfall and increased wet weather days. The 45-degree rule should still be followed — meaning that winter tires remain more pliable below 45 degrees due to the rubber compound that we utilize. This leads to shorter stopping distances in cold weather, even on non-snow-covered road surfaces. We do not believe that winter tires will be replaced by all-weather products completely, since there is still a strong need for severe winter weather performance.

Monico (Giti): The rise of all-weather tires may impact the winter tire segment in the long term, as consumer preferences and technological advancements continue to shape the industry as demand has increased in this segment, especially in urban markets.

Kramer (Goodyear): The growing size of the all-weather tire market will never completely eclipse the need for winter tires. All-weather tire performance is improving, including some all-weather tires now carrying the 3PMS designation. An all-weather tire will never offer the full performance capabilities of a winter tire (on) deep, packed snow or extreme icy roads. The same can be said for an all-weather tire in summer and high-performance situations. Unless you have the right tire for the conditions you face, there will be trade-offs. In addition, regional needs and government regulations mean that there will always be a need for winter tires. 

Some all-weather tires carry the 3PMS designation, but are still marketed as year-round tires. All-weather tires with a 3PMS designation offer more snow traction than a traditional all-season tire and they are a great alternative for customers who are not willing to own two sets of tires.  

However, for someone who regularly drives in harsh and unpredictable winter conditions, such as during a winter travel advisory, Goodyear would still highly encourage motorists to consider a dedicated set of winter tires.

Cho (Hankook): All-weather tires introduce added flexibility for consumers to find a product that best suits their driving environments. In some areas, such as the Northeast, consumers may find that an all-weather tire that has an all-season capability with more bias toward winter performance may better suit their needs over a dedicated winter product. That undoubtedly has an impact on winter tire segment demand and perhaps even more prominently on the all-season segment in some respects.  

Therefore, the extent of all-weather tires’ influence on winter tire demand can vary, contingent upon factors such as consumer preference, local climate patterns and tire innovations. Winter tires will remain an important seasonal product, especially for regions that experience extreme levels of snowfall and ice. That said, there has been a trend of milder winter seasons in the U.S., like we’ve seen in the Northeast, that may have an adverse effect on winter tire sales.

David Carpenter, winter product category manager, Michelin North America Inc.: So far, we've seen stable winter tire sales with the introduction of the all-weather tires. We've seen the shift in volumes come from all-season tires, not winter tires. It is possible to see a slight decline (in winter tire sales), but we anticipate that customers seeking maximum winter traction will continue to choose dedicated winter tires. All-weather tires are a great solution for those in mild winter climates, but severe winter conditions demand a dedicated winter tire that performs in sub-zero temperatures, deep snow and ice.

Lee (Nexen):The rise of all-weather tires does have the potential to impact the winter tire segment in the long term. All-weather tires are designed to provide a balance between the performance of summer and winter tires, making them suitable for a wide range of conditions throughout the year. As all-weather tires improve in technology and performance, some consumers may opt for these tires instead of dedicated winter tires, especially in regions with milder winter conditions. This could impact the demand for traditional winter tires. 

However, in regions where winter tire usage is mandatory during specific months, regulatory changes or exemptions for all-weather tires could influence consumer choices. If all-weather tires meet or exceed winter tire requirements, they may become a popular choice for compliance. It's important to note that while all-weather tires offer convenience and versatility, there are still factors to consider, such as the severity of winter conditions in a particular region and the specific needs of drivers. Dedicated winter tires often provide superior performance in extreme winter conditions and consumers who prioritize safety in harsh climates may continue to prefer them. 

Ultimately, the long-term impact will depend on the evolution of tire technology, consumer preferences, regulatory developments and the effectiveness of marketing and educational efforts within the automotive industry. 

While the rise of all-weather tires may influence consumer choices, it's unlikely that exclusive winter tires will disappear entirely in the foreseeable future. There are several factors that contribute to this expectation. 

Harsh winter conditions: In regions with harsh and prolonged winter conditions, there is a continued need for specialized winter tires that provide optimal traction, grip and performance in extreme cold, icy and snowy conditions.

Dedicated winter tires are specifically designed to excel in these challenging environments and consumers in such regions are likely to continue prioritizing their use for safety reasons.

Performance superiority: Exclusive winter tires are designed with a focus on winter-specific performance. They often outperform all-weather tires in extremely cold temperatures and icy conditions. Consumers who prioritize superior winter performance are likely to continue choosing dedicated winter tires. 

Consumer preferences: While all-weather tires offer convenience and versatility, consumer preferences vary. Some drivers may prefer the optimized performance of winter tires in winter conditions and may be willing to make the seasonal switch to ensure maximum safety and performance. 

Specialized features: Winter tires often incorporate specialized features — such as advanced tread designs, siping patterns and rubber compounds — to provide the best possible performance in winter conditions. These features may be challenging to replicate in an all-weather tire designed to cover a broader range of conditions. 

That said, market dynamics could evolve over time based on technological advancements, regulatory changes and shifts in consumer preferences. If all-weather tires continue to improve and provide comparable performance to dedicated winter tires, there might be a gradual shift in consumer choices.

Bourassa (Nokian): As the technology behind all-weather tires has improved, it’s becoming a viable option for some consumers to make this choice instead of a winter tire. However, consumers and tire dealers need to make sure they have an in-depth discussion about the limitations of all-weather tires and more limited winter performance, especially if they’ve driven winter tires. It will also become more important to look at winter tires that achieve the ice grip symbol, such as Nokian Tyres' Hakkapeliitta products. The ice grip symbol helps dealers and consumers alike understand the difference and limitations between winter and all-weather tires. 

All-weather tires are a viable option for consumers in many climates, but for true winter weather, a winter tire will continue to be the safest choice.

Coke (Pirelli): All-weather tires provide a truly balanced four-season tire for everyday use in most climates. However, for those living in areas with prolonged cold/winter climates, winter tires are specifically designed to deliver optimal performance in these more extreme conditions.

Lynch (Sailun): When a product fits a specific market niche, it will often impact related categories. All-weather tires can appeal to consumers in regions with moderate, inconsistent winter conditions. However, dedicated winter tires remain the optimal choice for areas with persistent snow, ice, slush and cold (under 44 degrees Fahrenheit/7 degrees Celsius). Tire rubber compounds behave differently as temperatures drop.

While all-weather tires offer benefits like year-round use without seasonal changeovers, their performance is generally best suited for mild winter conditions. In harsh winter conditions, specialized winter tires are still ideal as they offer superior traction and handling on ice, snow and in temperatures below freezing. 

Winter tire sales may decrease slightly, but the majority of consumers that need the premium winter tire traction due to harsher winter climates will stay with true winter tires. However, it is foreseeable in the areas that receive mild winters, many retailers may encourage their customers to venture into the ever increasingly popular all-weather tire category. This is where there is a larger potential for all-weather tires to steal some winter tire market share.

Tolbert (Trimax): The recent winter weather has changed and is different and so are vehicle dynamics — more all-wheel drive vehicles, CUVs, SUVs and light duty trucks. Hopefully for safety, it will get more consumers to ride on a 3PMS-designated tire during winter driving conditions. Not sure if they (winter tire sales) will decrease, but we do not see a huge growth or spike, (with) estimated single digit growth, most of it in larger diameter sizes (of) 18-inches to 21-inches. Winter tires won’t go away. They are important for driving situations in Canada and parts of the northern United States.

Nguyen (Yokohama): The current rise of all-weather tires will not impact the winter tire segment in the long-term. All-weather tires (offer) a specific, versatile, single-tire solution, regardless of the season, for consumers who experience an occasional light snowfall. But if a consumer drives through snow throughout the winter season, then an exclusive winter tire is still the best option. The severe snow service rating identified by the 3PMS (designation) represents a test to meet a minimum level of traction in a specific scenario. Although meeting the minimum requisite qualifies a tire for the 3PMS symbol, an exclusive winter tire typically far exceeds the winter performance of an all-weather tire, still making them the ideal option for heavy winter drivers.

About the Author

Madison Gehring | Associate Editor

Madison Gehring is Modern Tire Dealer's associate editor. A graduate of Ohio State University, Gehring holds a bachelors degree in journalism. During her time at Ohio State, she wrote for the university's student-run newspaper, The Lantern, and interned at CityScene Media Group in Columbus, Ohio.