The rising popularity and sales of all-terrain vehicles have created a solid replacement tire market that some tire companies expect to keep growing.
New ATV sales climbed to an estimated 886,000 units in 2003, a 3.8-percent increase from the previous year. Since 1998, new unit ATV sales have nearly doubled. Not surprisingly, increased vehicle sales translate into strong replacement tire sales and have caused the aftermarket to mature in the past five years, according to Dennis Teed, director of ATV sales and marketing at Goodyear.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association has no comparable industry data available on ATV tire sales. However, industry sources estimate the ATV tire market at 2.5 million tires and expect the market to grow.
Mr. Teed said ATV use and applications have increased on all fronts: farming, construction, hunting, fishing and recreation. The popularity of these vehicles is outstripping sales growth in other powersport segments, including motorcycles, he said.
While most ATV tires are sold by ATV and motorcycle dealers, more tire dealers are getting into this niche, according to Suwanee, Ga.-based Maxxis International. The company said the ATV market has expanded especially in the sport and racing segments, with no end in sight.
Mr. Teed said opportunities abound to service ATVs because vehicle owners are so diverse that they will look at all options for tires.
``The dealer needs to recognize it's a unique segment and it crosses so many applications from the agricultural use, where
it's truly a tractor supplement product, to true enthusiast racing type applications and everything in between,'' he explained.
Jeff Wilson, marketing manager for Firestone Agricultural Tire Co., said some of the factors driving the ATV tire explosion are the growth of ATV parks, clubs and areas dedicated to ATV riders, as well enthusiast TV shows. Much of the vehicle popularity is found in the Southeast.
``We're seeing an increase in interest among our farm customers,'' Mr. Wilson said. ``We got guys in the rice and cane areas in Louisiana and Alabama who have been at trade shows excited about this new tire because it's a new, aggressive ATV tire that can be used for a lot of different things.''
The ATV segment isn't particularly youth-oriented, but it is a male-dominated, luxury segment, Mr. Teed said. According to the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, 15 million Americans ride ATVs, 90 percent of whom are male and have median household incomes of $60,200.
Mr. Wilson said Bridgestone/Firestone's ATV tire sales are up more than 50 percent from last year, and Maxxis said it has seen 15-20 percent growth in ATV tire sales over the past several years. Goodyear declined to give its ATV tire sales, other than to say sales for both Goodyear and Dunlop brands are up over 2003 levels.
Goodyear offers about 20 ATV tire lines in the Goodyear brand and more than 50 lines in the Dunlop brand, according to the company's Web site. Maxxis markets 20 lines of ATV tires while BFS, which recently renewed its focus on the ATV segment, offers two lines-Bridgestone Mud Hooks and Dirt Hooks. Michelin North America Inc. had no comment for this report as it does not manufacture ATV tires, a spokesman said.
If tire dealers are to be successful in the ATV market, they need to do a local market analysis to see how many of those vehicles are in their market, Mr. Teed advised. He added that many dealers currently offering ATV tires probably had several customers come in and ask for the product.
``Consumers are looking in all locations for product,'' he said. ``In a lot of ways it's sometimes difficult to find product in certain areas....The dealer who's prepared and ready to service someone at the counter-meaning having inventory, having expertise to service a quad-there's an opportunity for them to take advantage of it.''
Mr. Wilson noted that the ATV niche isn't a hard business to get into but requires smaller equipment than dealers may be used to for forestry and large ag tires.
``If you don't have the right equipment, it might take you an hour or if you have the right mounting equipment for ATV tires, you can do it in 15-20 minutes,'' Mr. Wilson said.
ATV tire life varies greatly depending on the usage and terrain, and therefore manufacturers offer warranties only on materials, both Mr. Wilson and Mr. Teed said. Some ATV tires last up to 10 years because of little usage, while racers may go through a set of tires over a weekend.
``It depends if you're that enthusiast who's doing something aggressive with them or you're just using them to put-put around the farm,'' Mr. Wilson said.
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* 15 million Americans ride all-terrain vehicles.
* 70 percent ride as a family recreation activity.
* ATV sales have increased five-fold since 1993 to more than 847,000 units in 2002 and to an estimated 886,000 units in 2003.
* Median owner age is 40.
* 71 percent are married.
* 90 percent are male.
* 43 percent have professional/managerial occupations.
* Median household income is $60,200.
Source: Specialty Vehicle Institute of America