Chances are, if you live west of the Mississippi — especially in the Southwest and Northwest — the next vehicle you see on the road will be some kind of truck.
Nearly six of every 10 vehicles sold new in the U.S. last year were light trucks, everything from CUVs, SUVs, pickups and light commercial vehicles. More than 10 million units were sold in 2016, a jump of nearly 60 percent over the last five years.
That number likely is significantly higher out West, where the combination of mountainous terrain, weather conditions and occupational needs make trucks the preferred mode of transportation.
Joe Podlovits, director of brand management for The Wheel Group, said today's trucks aren't your father's clunky vehicles. "They've become very plush," Mr. Podlovits said. "The interiors are nicer, they are smoother-riding vehicles, they're more family-friendly than they've ever been."
With gas prices hovering around $2.50 per gallon nationally, look for Americans' affinity with light trucks to continue. In the first five months of 2017, sales of light commercial vehicles increased nearly 5 percent.
The tire market has followed the same path. The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association reports that OE light truck shipments increased more than 12 percent to nearly 5 million units in 2016 from the previous year, while production, imports and exports also grew.
The trend, it seems is to go bigger and wider. It's not uncommon for light trucks to be outfitted with 18-, 19- and 20-inch wheels. Consumers are demanding larger wheel sizes with increased load requirements.
According to one dealer, most consumers are looking for name-brand tires that provide high mileage, a quiet ride and good traction. Meanwhile, commercial customers view price as the overriding factor.
But servicing light trucks certainly has its challenges.
What tires should you stock? Larger tires occupy more room, leaving less space in warehouses. Do you have a supplier who can accommodate your needs, in a timely fashion, given the proliferation of sizes?
And what about servicing those LT tires and wheels.
Do you have the right equipment? While space and lifting don't seem to be a problem, the equipment to mount and balance can be costly. One dealer said a quality balancer and tire machine will start at $12,000.
And are your personnel trained to handle the larger sizes? Do they have the know-how and skill necessary to service today's light truck tires?
Those dealers who can answer those questions affirmatively — and stay ahead of America's insatiable appetite for light trucks — will find their bottom lines growing as well.