AKRONAnother European invasion is coming to North America that could bring a good amount of frustration for tire dealers in the near future.
Chrysler Group L.L.C., Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Mercedes-Benz North America and Nissan North America Inc. all have introduced recently or are in the process of rolling out full-size delivery/cargo vans based on European designs.
The new global vans, often referred to as Euro vans, feature extended roof heights and multiple wheelbases, which yield larger cargo space than the typical commercial van American consumers are familiar with.
While this widespread change brings with it measurable advances in efficiency and cargo flexibility, it also introduces potential problems in tires in terms of product availability and load-range issues, since most of the new vans are fitted at OE with higher load-range C-spec, or European-spec tires.
Unfortunately these type of commercial tires, often referred to as Euro-metric commercial tires, are hard to find this side of the ocean.
It's something that's going to cause us all grief if we don't get ahead of it, said John Rastetter, director of tire information services for Tire Rack Wholesale, who also expressed his concerns last December in a letter to Tire Business.
Euro-metric commercial tires have a C designation in the size, such as 225/75R16C, and have a load range index of 94/92, according to Mr. Rastetter.
The problem is America's not used to Euro-metric commercial tires.... The problem I think I see is looking at the consumer forums. They don't recognize this new type of sizing, so the people that are buying the vans are thinking they can use a load-range C tire as a replacement when it comes to either when they wear out their first set of tires or need winter tires.
The problem is for the given dimension for the given size tire, none of the LT tires are rated to carry that much load. The Euro-metric tires are rated to carry heavier loads....
So my fear is if dealers don't recognize this, and if the tire companies don't make some of their European offerings available, consumers are going to default to tires that may not be rated to carry the load of their vehicle and then run the risk of product problems or failure, he said.
In my mind it's like putting a standard load tire on a vehicle that requires extra load. You just don't have the capacity. But what compounds the problem is there's not a wide range of tires available in the U.S.
Chrysler appears to be planning to address the issue after it began shipping the 2014 Dodge Ram ProMaster late last year to the U.S. The vans are fitted with Continental tires in size P225/75R16C but will transition to Nexen brand tires later this year, the auto maker said.
A spokesman said the Nexen fitment will be in a more common North American size with improved after-market availability but declined to provide sizing specifications.
The Nissan NV200 van comes on a 185/60R15 C fitment, which Mr. Rastetter said, is the size that has only, in North America, been available in small performance-oriented tires. It's never been used as commercial product before. Nissan North America Inc. did not return a call for comment by presstime.
Until the arrival of the global vans, the Euro-metric commercial tire sizes were incredibly limited, according to Mr. Rastetter.
Some tire makers have listings of such tire sizes in other markets, but Goodyear declined to comment on the issue and Continental said it will be introducing a 16-inch rim diameter all-steel-belt tire for the pickup and delivery segment in the U.S. in 2015.
It's like the vans arrived before the support system was in place, Mr. Rastetter said. While that happens, in the past it's been an inconvenience that you couldn't get the type of tire you wanted. But it's never been quite as difficult as it appears today to have the incorrect capacity tire.
Chrysler claims there is sufficient source of replacement tires for its ProMaster and in the unlikely event the tires are not in stock at a dealership, they can be ordered, in response to a Tire Business query.
We do not expect customers to have this issue. The van has only recently launched and if a customer does not wish to use the Continental tire, a Nexen tire also will be available later this year. Please note, the Promaster has a full size spare.
The solution, to me, is really two-fold, Mr. Rastetter explained. First is inform tire dealers and consumers alike that their global vehicles is equipped with a very large load-carrying capable tire and that it needs to be replaced with a tire of the same design to provide them with safe and durable service.
The other thing is to encourage the tire manufacturers that this new opportunity is coming and that in many cases its not much more difficult than accessing some of the tires already on their European lineups menu.
Tire dealers will have to shop around for a replacement tire if a van comes into their shops. While there is a time lag for when the OE tire would wear out, there is the immediate concern about replacing damaged tires, Mr. Rastetter said. So far, Tire Rack has not received many customer requests for the Euro-metric commercial tires, he added, but it has the Conti sizes on order.
It's putting the cart before the horse, he said. In the past in our industry, it's happened before where someone has introduced a new SUV and there weren't winter tires for that first winter. That's an application or capability of use. This is a bit different in that it's really the load capacity, the pressure requirements.
If someone put a regular 185/60 on a vehicle and then inflated it to pressures on the placard, it would be way too much pressure for the design of the tire. So it's a real challenge.
Among the new Euro vans coming on the market are:
Ford Transit linewhich includes the 2014 Transit Connect Van and Wagon rolling out now and the full-sized 2015 Transit commercial vanwhich has been adapted for use in North America and is replacing Ford's venerable E-series.
Powerplant options for the Transit line vans are two V-6 gasoline engines or a five-cylinder diesel engine, which Ford claims will deliver 25- to 50-percent better mpg than the E series it's replacing while offering a wide range of capacity options58 different configurations based on three roof height, three body length and two wheelbase options.
Chrysler's Ram truck division is adding the Ram ProMaster, a delivery van based on Fiat S.p.A.'s Ducato van, which is available overseas in a range of setups, including standard Doblo Cargo, the larger Doblo Cargo Maxi Van, the high-roof Doblo (also available in long-wheelbase form), a chassis cab and a flatbed.
The Doblo Cargo gets four engine options, including three different diesel powerplants.
Chrysler also is adding the ProMaster City, a local delivery van based on Fiat S.p.A.'s Doblo van design, to its commercial lineup for 2015, growing the range to seven vehicles.
The ProMaster City sits on a 108-inch wheelbase but offers about 120 cubic feet of interior space in the basic version and up to 177 cubic feet in the long-wheelbase high-roof Doblo XL version.
General Motors is turning to Nissan Motor Co. to put Chevrolet dealers into the small cargo van market, with a rebadged version of Nissan's four-cylinder NV200 commercial van it's calling the Chevrolet City Express. Nissan builds the NV200 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Demand for a smaller, more fuel-efficient cargo vehicle has surged in recent years amid higher gasoline prices, said Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of GM's fleet and commercial sales.
Mercedes-Benz has created Mercedes-Benz Vans USA to sell the revamped Sprinter van, which it calls the benchmark and the norm of the Euro-style vans, which feature a smaller footprint but big cargo volume.
The new generation Sprinter is available in two wheelbases144 or 170 inchesthree lengths and two roof heights. It is sold as a four-seat crew van, two-seat cargo van, cab chassis, 12-seat passenger van or a minivan with as many as 18 seats.
It's powered by a 2.1-liter BlueTEC inline four-cylinder turbodiesel that generates 161 hp and 265 pounds-feet of torque, combined with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
This story contains information from Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6127.