WASHINGTON — The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) is projecting light truck tire shipments should grow this year in both the replacement (up 1.5 percent to 31.8 million units) and original equipment (up 1.4 percent to 5.5 million units) markets, after experiencing shipment declines in 2017 vs. 2016.
The USTMA didn't provide reasons for its forecast. But industry research shows sales of light trucks have been rising steadily the past several years, at the expense of the traditional passenger car.
Light trucks (including SUVs, CUVs, work vans, etc.) are outselling passenger cars by a 2-to-1 margin and the forecasts are for the trend to continue. (See vehicle trend story, page 16.)
This trend is reflected in other statistics the USTMA publishes on tire sizes and car vs. light truck tire fitments on cars. vs. light trucks.
In terms of OE fitments, the USTMA tracks the use of passenger and LT-designated light truck tires on light trucks — in this case, including SUVs, CUVs and light commercial vans.
According to the association's 2018 report (covering calendar-year 2017), the use of passenger tires as OE fitments on light trucks has increased steadily over the past decade to the point that more than half of the passenger-designated tires shipped to U.S.-based vehicle makers are now fitted to vehicles classified as "light truck."
The tipping point for this was in 2015, the USTMA data show, and the growth trend has continued. (See table this page.)
The trend in the replacement market, on the other hand, has been less pronounced, reflecting a car/light truck car parc that's skewed much more heavily to passenger cars.
Light truck designated tires differ significantly from passenger tires.
They are engineered to support the weight of trucks, SUVs and vans — which are heavier by nature — as well as handle heavier loads and towing and hauling needs.
The higher load-carrying capacities and reinforced sidewalls of LT tires make them rugged and durable but at the same time prone to a harsher ride, less capable of absorbing bumps, vibrations and road noise.
At the same time, market research firm GfK Group reported recently that consumers buying tires for fitment on their SUVs are moving increasingly to higher speed-rated products, opting for H-rated tires (130 mph) over S-rated tires (112 mph).
"Three of the four top tire manufacturers recorded growth in H-rated SKUs," GfK said in its most recent quarterly report.
Among those purchasing LT tires, R-rated tires (106 mph) accounted for more than half the market in 2017, although the percentage dropped slightly to about 51 percent, GfK reported.
Imports account for a large percentage of light trucks tires sold in the U.S.
According to U.S. Commerce Department figures, the U.S. imported 26.7 million LT-designated tires last year, down 4 percent from 2016, with an average declared customs value of $69.23.
Canada was the No. 1 "offshore" source of LT tires last year with shipments to the U.S. of 6.56 million units. The supply dynamic is changing, though, with Thailand, Vietnam and Brazil all shooting up the ranks of offshore sources of LT tires, while Canada, South Korea, Japan and China are throttling back on LT tires they ship to the U.S.
LT tire imports from Japan and Taiwan had the highest customs value last year at $94.90 and $90.43, respectively.