When one thinks about commercial truck tires, inevitably 24.5 and 22.5 standard and low-profile tire sizes come to mind: heavy-duty truck tires. Many people think that there really aren't any new frontiers or challenges left in the commercial truck tire market. Just cut the price to get the business, since you're competing with 12 other guys to win over a fleet account.
But commercial tires encompass much more than that, and there may be a segment of this market that is fairly untouched and ignored that may offer fresh opportunities for you.
In the last 10 to 15 years, the growth of the commercial light truck market has increased dramatically. I'm talking about vehicles in Class 2 through Class 5 that range from a GVW (gross vehicle weight) of 6,001 to 19,500 lbs.
There has been a huge growth in package trucks, bakery-type trucks, passenger transit vehicles, construction vehicles, agricultural equipment, service vans, utility-type vehicles and other specially spec'ed smaller vehicles used primarily in intra-city pickup-and-delivery operations.
The market for tires for these classes of vehicles is just as large as the medium-duty truck tire market, with 33 million original equipment and replacement tires sold a year. The problem in this market segment, though, is that there is great confusion and dissatisfaction on the fleet side regarding the proper types of tires that should be used in these applications.
First, there are light truck tire sizes that also are passenger tire sizes. For example, the P235/75R15 tire is rated to carry 2,028 pounds at 35 psi. The LT235/75R15 is rated to carry 1,985 pounds at 50 psi. What's the deal here?
Well, because P-metric (passenger) tires are not designed for use at or near their maximum rated loads for long periods of time, those used in light-truck tire service must have their loads reduced by 10 percent. This would make the P235/75R15, when used in light-truck applications, rated at only 1,825 pounds.
Fleets also have trouble identifying the type of tire construction light truck tires have. There are two types: fabric/steel that have two fabric body plies with steel belts; and steel/steel constructions that have one steel body ply with steel belts.
Both of these tire constructions in the light truck sizes are rated for the same load-carrying capacity at the same pressure, and both have the same tire-size designation.
For example, the LT235/85R16, load range E, comes in both fabric/steel and steel/steel constructions, and both are rated at 3,042 pounds at 80 psi in single use. The only way to determine the construction is to read the sidewall.
Due to advances in technology, the changing truck tire market and liability risks, tire sizes are changing in this market. Some sizes like the 7.50R16, 8.75R16.5 and 9.50R16.5 are declining in usage.
This is good. Hopefully there will be fewer instances of people trying to mount these tires on the wrong size rim.
However, the use of other sizes—especially the metric sizes—is growing, including: 8R19.5, LT225/ 70R19.5, LT245/70R19.5, LT225/ 75R16, LT245/75R16 and LT235/ 85R16.
Traditionally, truck manufacturers install fabric/steel tires on new vehicles. They have not been readily amenable to equipping new vehicles with all-steel tires, allegedly due to the higher costs of these tires.
As a result, there are approximately 17 times more fabric/steel tires sold than steel/steel tires. Unfortunately, these fabric/steel casings have not proven to be very retreadable, and fleets have been very dissatisfied with their performance—as well as quite vocal about it.
The sorry fact about this state of affairs is that all-steel tires only cost 5 to 10 percent more than fabric/steel tires, while their performance is much better.
For example, treadwear on steel/steel tires is more than 50 percent better than fabric/steel tires. Mileage for these classes of light commercial vehicles averages about 33,000 miles a year. Normally, treadwear is significantly better in rural routes than in intra-city operations, due to the numerous stops normally made in city driving.
Downtime also is dramatically reduced with the all-steel construction, due to the improved puncture-resistance of these tires.
Retreadability of steel/steel tires is tremendously higher, especially since no retreader wants to touch a fabric/steel light truck tire and would give several body parts to get his hands on a steel/steel casing. Only about 25-30 percent of the fabric/steel casings are currently being retreaded, whereas 75 to 80 percent of the steel/steel casings are being given new lives.
It follows naturally that the value of steel/steel casings is much higher, too. Is it any wonder, then, that in a market of 33 million tires—of which only one in 17 has a steel/steel casing—only 7 million tires (21.2 percent) are retreaded a year. This percentage is in sharp contrast to the 65 percent of heavy-duty truck tires that are retreaded annually.
In analyzing the market, larger fleets—especially those with more than 100 vehicles—are more likely to retread their light truck tires than are smaller fleets. This may be due to their being a little more sophisticated and having the data to determine the cost-effectiveness of retreading. Or maybe it's due to their having a higher profile and getting called on by retread salespeople.
Regardless of the current state of the commercial light truck tire market, the only advantages fabric/steel tires have are the initial lower purchase cost (5 to 10 percent), tire weight and broad OE and replacement availability.
Steel/steel tires, however, provide a much lower life-cycle cost, have a higher casing value, are more retreadable, and deliver reduced downtime and better treadwear.
Fleets that run commercial light truck tires need help in sorting this mess out and realizing that they can achieve better tire wear and reduce their costs. Here's an opportunity that is banging at your door.
Light commercial truck tires may well be the final frontier in the truck tire business—one that certainly offers great growth potential.