Designing a tire that provides performance and traction in nearly all types of road conditions is a challenge.
The vehicle OEMs traditionally have pushed tire makers to develop certain technologies in their tires, such as fuel efficiency, ride comfort, noise reduction, etc., which first are used as OE fitments and then offered as replacement tires. But the all-weather tire is the exception.
"This is an area where the (tire) industry has really taken the lead on the replacement side first," BATO's Mr. Robbins said, noting the vehicle manufacturers haven't shown a strong interest in all-weather OE fitments.
"I think if you asked one of our tire engineers maybe 10 years ago to develop this tire, I think they would have said we're crazy," Hankook's Mr. Nasca said.
"But it's been exceptional, the amount of technology that we have, with the Kontrol Technology, and a testament to our engineers and also to our research facility in Akron, Ohio, that have been able to perform and create a tire that has great wet and dry performances, but also the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake with a treadwear warranty on it."
When Michelin unveiled its CrossClimate2, it declared the tire its "biggest passenger tire innovation" in 20 years.
"Designing a tire that has excellent wet stopping, dry stopping, longevity, and meets the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification for snow traction was a challenge but the CrossClimate2 tire manages to provide all of those things, which are important to consumers," Mr. Shepherd said.
The tire makers said they have used the latest technologies to minimize trade-offs: multiple sipes, improved tread compounding, better tread design, etc.
"That balance of providing the snow traction while minimizing or eliminating trade-offs is really where the technology comes in," BATO's Mr. Robbins said, noting that using three-dimensional sipes was "a game-changer."
"We're really trying to stretch that spider chart, so to speak, in many different directions. We're really able to get a lot more capability because we added soy oil and we've really leveraged that soy oil. Not only is it sustainable and renewable, which is fantastic, but it also gives us a lot more flexibility of the compound through a wider temperature range," Goodyear's Mr. Pulte said, adding, "that's big challenge, maintaining traction over a wider range of temperatures."
The all-weather tire is well-suited in areas where people haven't historically used winter tires but experience a few days a year where the winter weather gets bad, according to tire makers.
"As winter events have reached into the southern regions of the U.S.A., large metropolitan areas like Houston and Atlanta have experienced more severe winter conditions and all-weather tires would be an excellent option to consider over traditional all-season tires," Toyo's Mr. Galamgam said.
"We've seen sales across the U.S. and even into Canada. The transitional areas of the country seem to be where the value proposition of an all-weather product resonates the most," BATO's Mr. Robbins said.
"Having that enhanced all-season capability makes sense for a lot of different consumers. So we really offer it across the whole U.S.," Goodyear's Mr. Pulte added.
While consumers in the warmer South and West may be less interested in an all-weather tire, there are residents in those areas who need extra traction for ski trips in the mountains or traveling north during the winter months.
"CrossClimate2 tire performs well in the U.S., so we don't see issues with receptivity," Michelin's Mr. Shepherd said, however the all-weather tire is not as relevant in Canada.
"In places like Florida, wet traction performance appeals to consumers. In northern states, the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification appeals to consumers."
But consumers who routinely switch between winter tires and all-season/summer tires tend to be winter-tire loyalists.
"If you truly are in an area that's very snowy, and you end up driving on hard-packed snow or deeper snow, those folks tend to switch (to winter tires) already, and I think the capability of a dedicated snow tire is just so good that those people will probably tend to continue to switch," Goodyear's Mr. Pulte said, noting that people who already buy all-season tires, but want more snow traction, will opt for enhanced all-season vs. winter tires.
"I personally think our winter tire customers out there are loyal. They know what they want, they know what they need. And they might be a little bit more experienced from the fact that they are actually buying winter tires. The consumers that buy winter tires know the cost benefits of it and know the restrictions that go along with it (i.e. changing seasonal tires)," Mr. Nasca said.
"But I think with the new generation of drivers coming along, they're not going to want to mess with another set of tires or another set of rims or going back again to the retailers to exchange (seasonal tires)."
In Canada, where dedicated winter tires are popular, there is some hesitancy to adopt all-weather tires.
"If you're in an environment where the roads are cleared a fair amount, you might switch to the enhanced all-season, instead of a regular all-season. But the people that switch (to winter tires) are probably still really liking their snow tires. A winter tire still has better traction in the snow and so it's a good choice, but it does come with a little extra burden of having to switch your tires out. But for consumers that want that extra confidence in the winter, that makes sense," Goodyear's Mr. Pulte said.
Point S Canada, a Boucherville, Quebec-based tire distributor, has been carrying all-weather tires for the Canadian market for the past five years.
Ann Turcotte, Point S senior director of purchasing, said that these tires sell better in the cities, where the streets are regularly plowed in the winter.
Otherwise, "because of the conditions in Canada in the winter, it's hard conditions, so you need real, true winter tires. But in greater Montreal, they don't need a real, true winter tire. We see a little bit of increase (in all-weather tire sales there)," she said.
Consumers in big cities, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, will usually be more interested in all-weather tires because they don't get as much snow, she said. But she predicts all-weather tires will continue to be a niche market in Canada going forward.
"We went to Toronto in late January last year. Our message to Canadians was, 'Look guys, you should have winter tires. But if for some reason you don't, and you've been trying to get around on all-season tires, all-weather is a great option in a metropolitan area like Toronto, that's a little milder than being in Calgary,'" Wes Boling, Nokian's senior communications and content manager, said.
It seems to be a consensus among tire companies that all-weather tires may eventually chip away at the all-season market share, rather than the winter tire market share.
"According to our results, it's definitely that people are upgrading from the all-season, not downgrading from the winter," Tommi Heinonen, Nokian Tyres P.L.C.'s vice president of sales in North America, said.
"We are very happy about that because that's exactly how we want to go with it. If there is a consumer who needs winter tires, we never ever like to downgrade them to the all-weather, but the safest choice is to have a true winter and then a summer or all-season. But if there is a consumer who should be buying winter tires but he or she won't do it, then upgrading from the all-season to the all-weather is a great option," Mr. Heinonen said.
"Right now in the next five to 10 years, I definitely don't see (all-weather) making a huge impact on or cutting into our sales of all-season or winter tires," Hankook's Mr. Nasca said.
"But in the future, absolutely. I think as the market grows and the education grows, I think it definitely can make a difference. And it's mostly going to be in certain segments. … I think it's going to mostly have an impact on northern states, especially the Northeast or the Northwest where you have colder weather but also some snow."
It's incumbent upon tire dealers to educate themselves on all-weather tire attributes so they can educate their customers, the tire makers said.
"It's about making sure they are educating themselves and holding us accountable for making sure that they are confident in a product they understand, and they are going to be able to sell it," BATO's Mr. Robbins said.
"We've done a lot of work with our education team to make sure the materials are available and really helping dealers understand that. If we're not giving them what they need, they should let us know, and we can always do a better job with that. I think it's really just focusing on simply what these tires can do for consumers. It's like a super all-season almost," he said.
Dealers can tell customers interested in all-weather tires: "'This is everything you loved about the all-season products that we had in the past, but it has this extra capability,'" Mr. Robbins said.
"If it's once a year or twice a year that your consumers only get to use (snow traction), it's still better for them in that condition while being equally good, and in some cases better, in the wet, in the dry, for ride comfort, things like that.
"So it really is about that messaging — offering more rather than some type of compromise, which never really plays well when you're talking to dealers and consumers," Mr. Robbins said.
Goodyear's Mr. Pulte said tire dealers have the advantage of understanding their customers' needs.
"Listen to the consumer. What do they like about their vehicle? How do they use their vehicle? And then where are the tires working for them today and what would they like more of? If they would like a little more traction in some bad weather, probably an enhanced all-season tire would make sense," he said.
Don Detore, Tire Business editor, contributed to this story.