STOW, Ohio—As Roger Simmons drives a Dodge Dakota down a winding country road in Stow, you'd think by the sound of it that he was piloting an airplane down a runway. With the pickup raised on a set of 33-inch high Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires that look like they could trample a fire hydrant without being punctured, Mr. Simmons demonstrates one reason why the light truck tire market keeps growing—many guys think pickups with big, rumbling tires are cool.
While pickup truck owners do look for tires to enhance their vehicles' ability to haul and function off-road, many like the image of a rugged vehicle and just ``want to hear their tires sing,'' said Brian Downard, regional marketing manager for Mickey Thompson Tires.
Those perceptions and attitudes work well for Mickey Thompson, which has found it can profit from rising demand for light truck tires by selling its products for special uses or tastes, such as Hummers or replica vehicles, said Mr. Simmons, also a regional marketing manager for Mickey Thompson.
The company's involvement in desert racing naturally brought it to designing and marketing light truck tires that can perform off-road much like the desert racing vehicles, said Jerry Francis, eastern marketing manager. The Stow-based private brand marketer of performance tires and wheels earns 40 percent of its sales from light truck tires, Mr. Simmons said.
The firm sells light truck tires up to 39 inches high, particularly for those enthusiasts who romp off-road in the rocky terrains of Moab, Utah, or Baja California (Mexico), Mr. Simmons said.
About 10 to 20 percent of Mickey Thompson's sales come from these off-roaders. The company declined to disclose its annual sales.
Mickey Thompson listens closely to what its customers want and how they use their light truck tires, Mr. Downard said. In each region of the U.S., pickup owners like to ``play'' in different terrains—from the deserts of the Southwest to the muddy, rocky areas of the East.
``Wherever the terrain is, they'll find it,'' Mr. Downard said.
Although the sport-utility vehicle market also continues to grow, Mickey Thompson has found that pickup truck owners are more interested in buying the larger LT tires.
``You see some SUV guys with gnarly treads, but 90 percent are suburbanites and have passenger tires for a nice, quiet ride,'' Mr. Simmons said.
The company offers light truck tires in a Baja series. The most popular tires are the Baja Belted tire, an all-terrain tire that offers extra traction; the Baja Belted HP tire, which offers an aggressive tread pattern, but has a quieter ride on the highway; and the Baja MTX, Mickey Thompson's only radial light truck tire.
Most recently, Mickey Thompson developed its Baja Claw tire with the help of off-road enthusiasts who asked the firm to create an extreme-terrain tire for rock-climbing, Mr. Simmons said.
Unlike previous Baja lines, the firm allowed a few well-known off-road enthusiasts to see design prototypes of the Baja Claw and suggest tread patterns for different road conditions. The off-roaders told Mickey Thompson's engineers the type of grooves the tire needed for adhesion and traction.
The bias-belted tire features ``sidebiters''—raised rubber patches on each sidewall that protect against rocks and hydroplaning.