Wandering the floor at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we were struck by the continued emphasis on bigger-and even bigger-is better.
While most of the car companies did show hybrid or alternative energy-powered vehicles, these were not the focus of the major launches.
Instead, show goers were greeted with the rebirth of the horsepower-laden pony car (Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger concepts), newly revamped versions of the largest sport-utility vehicles (including Mercedes-Benz' first seven-passenger SUV), a 22-foot long, four-door, V-10-powered pickup (Ford F-250 Super Chief), and other behemoths.
For tire retailers, these and other concept vehicles provide some insight into the size and types of tires they might be stocking in their dealerships three or four years from now, when the road-going versions of the concepts are ready for their first tire replacements.
Here again, the mantra appears to be: Bigger is better.
The aforementioned Ford Super Chief rides on Goodyear concept tires checking in at a svelte LT335/50R24.
The Camaro has to make do with P305/30R22 concepts on the rear and P275/30R21 tires on the front, while the Challenger is riding on 245/40R20s.
More close at hand, the standard fitments on a number of vehicles due in car dealers' showrooms this year were 18, 19 or 20 inches in size-even on non-performance vehicles like the Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX cross-over.
The Buick Enclave cross-over, said to be a 2007 model launch, was shown with 21-inch run-flat tires.
Considering the recent spikes in fuel prices, it was surprising that fuel economy did not play a more prominent role in the car makers' presentations.
But there wasn't much emphasis on this by tire makers either. There was nary a mention of low rolling resistance tires outside of Michelin's booth.
So much for the energy crisis.
What about run-flat tires? Several of the concept tires displayed were of the run-flat variety, but that aspect of the tires' performance wasn't played up in the vehicles' press clippings.
It appears the age of run-flat tires still has yet to arrive.
The message from the Detroit auto show is clear. Rubber is getting bigger-driven by vehicle makers' designs that every new model year seem to demand use of larger tires and wheels.
And the end is not in sight as to when this trend will run its course.
So what's a dealer to do? Get prepared for an even greater number of SKUs, and ever-bigger vehicles, fitted with larger tires, crawling into bays for service.
Kind of makes you pine for the days of yesteryear when Motown's muscle cars ruled. At least their tire fitments were a lot less complicated.