NEW YORK — U.S. consumers are turning increasingly to higher speed-rated tires, according to the latest findings from market research firm GfK Group, reflecting the belief that higher-quality products drive the U.S. tire marketplace.
"Across the passenger car, SUV and light truck segments, consumers increasingly favor tires that are rated for speeds that most drivers will likely never approach — up to 168 miles per hour," GfK said.
In passenger tires, which represent 55 percent of total U.S. replacement sales volume, buyers are shifting increasingly to V-rated (149 mph) and H-rated (168 mph) tires from T-rated tires (up to 116 mph), according to the GfK retail panel.
H-rated tires claimed 32 percent of the passenger tire market in both 2016 and 2017, GfK said. V-rated tires rose to 20 percent from 19 percent of the market in those two years, while T-rated tires went to 31 percent from 29 percent.
SUV tires, representing 30 percent of the replacement tire market, saw a similar shift, with consumers moving to H-rated tires (130 mph) from S-rated tires (112 mph).
"Three of the four top tire manufacturers recorded growth in H-rated SKUs," GfK said.
R-rated light truck tires (106 mph) still accounted for more than half the market in 2017, but dropped to 50.8 percent of the LT market in 2017 from 52 percent in 2016, according to the retail panel.
Most of that share shifted to S-rated tires (112 mph), but with only 28.4 percent of the LT tire market, S-rated tires have a long way to go to overtake R-rated tires as the sales leader, a GfK spokesman said.
Price has little to do with the switch to higher-speed rated tires, according to the spokesman. Although H-rated passenger tires rose 2.6 percent in price from 2016 to 2017, they still are the least expensive in that category, averaging $116.72 apiece, he said.
"V-rated tires have dropped in price, although slightly, implying that the market is adjusting for the higher value placed on them by dealers," the spokesman said. V-rated tires dropped 0.5 percent in average price from 2016 to 2017 to $133.68 apiece, according to GfK.
The move toward higher-speed-rated tires demonstrates consumers' perception that the higher the speed rating, the better the tire, according to Neil Portnoy, managing director of GfK's Point-of-Sale tire panel.
"In many ways, we see speed ratings as a proxy for quality, which increasingly drives customer preference in today's tire market," Mr. Portnoy said.
"We also believe that improvements in tire technology — allowing for smoother rides at higher speeds — are making those higher-end tires more appealing to the mainstream family car or sedan owner."
GfK's retail panel represents nearly 35,000 points of sale throughout the U.S., accounting for nearly two-thirds of U.S. replacement tire sales, the company said.