A number of tire makers introduced new tires during the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.
Unless otherwise noted, Tire Business Staff Reporter Lisa Hockensmith compiled the following reports on some of those new products.
Hankook Tire America Corp. highlighted two new tires at the SEMA Show as the tire maker continues efforts to expand the brand.
Hankook unveiled the Optimo H727 premium all-season touring tire and the Dynapro MT off-road light truck tire. The T-rated Optimo features high mileage and low noise with a line of sizes ranging from 14- to 17-inch rim diameters coming within 90 days. The Optimo is replacing the Mileage Plus GT H707.
The Dynapro mud tire will be launched in 15- to 22-inch rim diameter sizes for what Hankook is billing as an ``aggressive'' tire.
``We recognize a big market's out there and some of our competitors have been in that market for a little while,'' said Bill Bainbridge, marketing director for Hankook. ``We kind of slowed the pace down, saw what they were doing, learned from what they were doing and did a couple unique things.''
Some of those distinct qualities, he said, were stone ejectors in the tread and extra rim protection for off-road conditions. The result, he said, was an aggressive look that also reduced noise for on-highway driving. The tire is positioned to compete against Toyo Tire (U.S.A.) Corp.'s Open Country line.
``This is premium,'' Mr. Bainbridge said of the tire. ``Gnarly enough to get you anywhere you want to go off the road, but quiet enough it won't hurt you on the highway.''
Mr. Bainbridge also said Hankook is continuing its efforts to grow the brand's reach. Some of those efforts, he said, are already paying off.
``If we continue the pace that we set the first 10 months of the year, this is going to be another record-setting year from a sales, profit and gain in market share standpoint across the board-passenger, light truck and medium truck,'' Mr. Bainbridge said.
Hankook is still fine-tuning some of its marketing efforts for 2006 so Mr. Bainbridge declined to detail them at SEMA, but one effort that will continue is the search for more original equipment fitments. That strategy is a work in progress, he said, because the tire maker has to develop some initial fitments before it can secure a seat on more coveted vehicles.
``There's a lot of horse-trading and pencil-sharpening that goes on, but it all starts with the quality of the product,'' he said. ``If you can't meet their specs in terms of quality and cost, all the horse trading in the world doesn't earn you the business if the quality of the business isn't there.''
Mr. Bainbridge added that many dealers are starting to notice Hankook's efforts. At the show, he told Tire Business he had received more dealer inquiries than he ever had before at a SEMA Show.
``So there's some recognition out there of what the brand's doing in the marketplace because the inquiries are growing,'' he said.
Michelin North America Inc. is bringing its Latitude line of all-season speed-rated tires for sport-utility and crossover vehicles-now available in only limited original equipment fitments-to the aftermarket starting in May.
``This Latitude name will become the umbrella name for the SUV and crossover family of products,'' said John Soule, Michelin brand category manager for light truck tires. Michelin offered a preview of the Latitude line at the SEMA Show.
The Latitude Tour HP tire will be launched formally in May with 11 replacement tire sizes. The tire already is original equipment in four H- and V-rated sizes on the 2005 Mercedes R and M class vehicles.
In three to five years, Michelin plans to add more tires to the Latitude family. The Latitude Tour HP will be positioned as an all-season complement to Michelin's Diameris light truck sport line.
The Latitude line is designed to hit right at the heart of SUV growth in the U.S. Mr. Soule said Michelin expects the light truck tire market will be larger than entry-level passenger tires by 2008. The seeds have already been sown for that growth. Right now, he said, sales of OE light truck tires already are larger than those of OE passenger tires.
``So in three to four years the equilibrium will start to balance out'' in the replacement market, he told Tire Business.
The light truck vehicle market itself has its high and low performers. Michelin expects that full-size and mid-size SUVs will stabilize, but crossover vehicles-such as the Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Toureg, BMW X5 and Chrysler Pacifica-will supply a bulk of the growth in the segment. The performance capabilities of these vehicles also are driving the tires into H-, V- and Z-rated territory, Mr. Soule added.
``I don't believe a consumer would be content with what a T-rated tire would deliver,'' he said. ``Could you build a (Mazda) MDX and put a T-rated tire on it? Probably, but there are some of those MDX drivers that really enjoy the driving experience of being able to push that vehicle a little harder on the corners. It's not just about high-speed capabilities, it's about grip, it's about cornering, it's about safety in the end.''
In a few years, speed-rated versions of light truck tires will grow to 11 percent of the light truck tire market overall, including off-road and commercial applications, Michelin forecasts. This year speed-rated tires represent about 4 percent of that market.
The Latitude Tour HP will be available to independent tire dealers and wholesalers as well as by special order to mass merchandisers and warehouse clubs. Michelin plans to promote the tire's launch through Web-based and print advertising in both general interest and enthusiast media. The tire maker also plans a push to dealers to carve out a place for the tires.
``We want to be able to reach our dealers and explain to them how this new product fits into their product screen,'' Mr. Soule said.
He acknowledged that an obstacle for Michelin would be to calm dealer concerns about SKU complexity.
Still, he said tire dealers are noticing the same growth trend toward crossover vehicles.
``Where they will not be happy is if we develop a lot of confusion, if we don't try to keep it streamlined,'' Mr. Soule said. ``That will lead to SKU complexity. This is already going to lead to SKU complexity.... We're hoping to keep that to a minimum.''
Yokohama Tire Corp. formally launched its Advan S.4. tire, the all-season replacement for its AVS dB S2, rounding out its premium lineup.
Yokohama also launched the Parada Spec-X tire in its ``trend setting'' line.
Twenty-one sizes are now available for the Advan S.4. and an additional 49 will be available by the first half of 2006, Yokohama said. The Parada Spec-X will be available in 22 sizes for light trucks, sport-utility vehicles and some larger sedans ranging from 20- to 24-inch rim diameters.
Mark Chung, director of strategic marketing for Yokohama, said the Advan line has been well received by dealers since it was launched this year in the U.S. after previously being a Japan-only product.
``The credibility that we get from the OEs and also the tuners speaks volumes about the brand,'' he said.
The Advan line is OE on high-end vehicles, including Porsche and Bentley, which Mr. Chung said proves the performance prowess of the line.
The drivers of those vehicles, he added, expect high performance, so the tires must match the vehicles' capabilities. The drivers, he said, want comfort, low noise and high performance.
``Some of these are opposing interests, and to deliver all that truly takes a lot of effort, a lot of technology and a lot of development from our perspective,'' he added.
With the Advan line, Mr. Chung said Yokohama hits all the major segments-Advan as premium, Geolandar for light trucks, Avid for broadline and Parada for ``trend setting.''
``We are a full-line manufacturer with Advan in the premium position,'' he said.
The Parada line reflects a broader customer base than just the enthusiast tuner market.
``It's not just a cosmetic tire,'' a Yokohama spokesman said. ``Most tires in this segment are strictly cosmetic, and people that drive in L.A. and Las Vegas, that's all they need, the weather's fine. But where this market's really growing is in Middle America. So this is the tire that... has the capabilities to do everything in all weather. If you're going to make it pretty, you might as well perform, and people in Middle America need that.''
Still, the Parada tires are priced ``very competitive'' compared with their more traditional tuner brethren.
Regarding the popular perception that ``tuners'' will pay any price for their gear, the Yokohama spokes-man said that may be true for dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts, but not necessarily of the larger market.
``There's the enthusiasts, who will pay anything,'' he said. ``And then there's the people who really like their cars to look good, and they like what they see and they want to be a part of it, but they really don't want to spend $500 for tires, so the Parada brand as a whole is going to be priced for these people.''