AKRON — Tire manufacturers are dealing with the future of the ultra-high-performance (UHP) market after Ford Motor Co. announced it plans to drop nearly all of its sedans and hatchbacks as part of its broad plan to save money and make the auto maker more competitive in a dynamic marketplace.
Over the next four years, Ford said it will focus on higher-margin SUVs, CUVs and pickup trucks while dropping production of its Fusion midsize car, Taurus large car, CMax hybrid compact and Fiesta subcompact in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The only sedans it will keep producing is its Mustang sports car and a compact Focus crossover vehicle.
By 2020, the auto maker said utility vehicles and pickups will represent 90 percent of its North American mix.
Reports out of Detroit also say that General Motors Co. is considering ending production of the Chevrolet Volt, Impala and Sonic; Buick LaCrosse; and Cadillac CT6 XTS by 2020. GM also is discontinuing production of the Cadillac ATS sedan after the 2018 model year, just six years after introducing the car as a rival to the strongest German competitor.
GM, however, is investing $175 million in a Michigan plant that will produce two new Cadillac sedans that will replace the ATS, CTS and XTS sedans in the lineup.
UHP tire makers are facing the changing marketplace head on.
"Ford is definitely one of the industry leaders, but time will tell," said Rick Phillips, vice president of sales for Triangle Tires USA L.L.C.
"We probably won't see any changes immediately, but this certainly could affect things down the line, especially if other car makers follow suit."
Mr. Phillips added that while Ford has always been bold, it was a little surprising to hear the news since Ford had good passenger car offerings, such as the revamped Taurus.
Other tire makers doubt the significant effect Ford's choice will have on UHP tires.
"Ford's decision to stop manufacturing sedans in North America has some impact on the UHP tire market, but we don't believe it's a major one," said Daniel Kelly, product planner, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
"While this strategy will remove performance vehicles such as the Focus ST and Focus RS from our market, Ford's most popular performance platform, the Mustang, is sticking around for the foreseeable future."
Even though CUVs continue to grow more popular, Mr. Kelly said the surprise was not that an auto manufacturer deprioritized sedan production.
"The biggest surprise has to do with timing — it is unusual to see a manufacturer make such a profound move in one fell swoop," Mr. Kelly said.
"While sedan popularity is declining, it's still a sizable portion of the U.S. vehicle market."
Others to follow?
Ernest Bedia, vice president, original equipment North America at Pirelli North America Inc., agreed that it was not a surprise to see Ford altering its offering in this way.