The U.S. replacement and original equipment markets for ultra-high-performance (UHP) tires remain strong, but like all segments of the automotive business, they are undergoing rapid change.
What's driving this, largely, is the shift in vehicle preferences by consumers to sports utility and crossover utility vehicles and away from passenger sedans, a trend that's been accelerating in recent years.
The movement has become so pronounced that in 2018, SUVs, CUVs and light trucks accounted for 69% of new vehicle sales in the U.S., with passenger cars making up the remaining 31%. In three years, when those vehicles start needing replacement tires, the shift to these higher-riding vehicles will truly become apparent.
But that doesn't necessarily mean a decline is imminent in high-performance and UHP tire sales. On the contrary, it is likely sales of UHP tires will grow. They just will be found on more non-traditional sports vehicles and in some rather unconventional sizes.
Some industry executives interviewed for this issue's Ultimate Performance Tire Guide think the traditional UHP tire customer — the high-performance vehicle enthusiast — will remain a strong market segment. We agree. The enthusiast vehicle market remains steady.
In addition, more and more basic commuter vehicles, like the Toyota Camry, are being fitted at the factory with UHP tires.
The real growth in UHP tires is likely to come as a result of a redefinition of what is a sports vehicle.
As more consumers gravitate to larger SUVs and CUVs, the demand for higher performance and larger engines is likely to increase, and better gripping tires will be an essential part of the mix.
The auto industry has seen the trend. Traditional sports car companies, such as Porsche and Maserati, now offer their own high-performance SUVs and CUVs, while even high-end auto makers Bentley and Rolls Royce are introducing their own models for this segment. You can bet those vehicles aren't coming equipped with H-rated or lower speed-rated tires.
All of this change is creating confusion in the marketplace as to what constitutes a performance vehicle and correspondingly what are the proper tires to fit when replacing them.
This confusion plays right into the hands of the independent tire dealer. Even with information readily available online about tires, it is still confusing to most vehicle owners as to which products will work best on their vehicles.
As the tire professional in his or her local communities, dealers can guide their customers into making the right tire choice at an acceptable price.
As confusion and change impact the auto and tire industries, it will be the independent tire dealer whom consumers seek to make sense of it all.