AKRON — The North American market for ultra-high-performance (UHP) tires may be changing, but demand remains strong, according to representatives of tire companies with a strong UHP presence.
Demand patterns for UHP tires are fluctuating, according to Andrew Briggs, vice president of marketing and product management for Yokohama Tire Corp.
"UHP as a category has actually grown — even as the vehicle trends continue to move towards CUVs — but this has actually come at the expense of more broad-line passenger car products, which have allowed both UHP and LTR to grow," Mr. Briggs said in response to questions for Tire Business' mid-year tire report.
- This article appears in the July 8 print edition of Tire Business.
With the increase in OE speed-rating demands, all-season UHPs are driving growth in that market, according to Mr. Briggs.
UHP tires are the backbone of Pirelli Tire L.L.C.’s product and commercial strategy, the Italian tire maker said.
“We concentrate most of our effort and get our growth from that segment,” Pirelli said. “According to our estimates it continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace than last year.”
Figures taken from the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce show strong growth for HP tires in both original equipment and replacement markets.
H-rated tires, approved for speeds of up to 130 mph, nearly tripled in OE demand between 2010 and 2017 to 16 million units from 5.9 million.
Demand for V-rated tires, approved for speeds of up to 149 mph, also showed strong OE growth between 2010 and 2017, increasing more than 5% a year to 6.2 million units from 4.5 million. Z-rated tires, approved at 149 mph and above, were shipped in more modest numbers but still grew impressively at nearly 17.5% a year to 3 million units from 900,000.
High-performance growth also was brisk in the replacement market between 2010 and 2017. H-rated replacement tire shipments increased from 30.5 million to 48.8 million in those years; V-rated, from 13.1 million to 25.8 million; and Z-rated, from 12.1 million to 17.4 million.
Michelin North America Inc. said it is seeing a trend toward larger vehicles in the UHP segment.
"While the performance vehicle market might be shrinking in terms of vehicle launches, we continue to see the volume difference offset by an increase in performance CUVs and SUVs," Michelin said.
“The performance vehicle market is following the overall market in the shift away from cars and toward CUVs and SUVs, even in the high-performance segment,” the tire maker said.
While the UHP market has shown relative growth in the last five to 10 years, growth in UHP passenger tires has slowed, according to Brandon Stotsenburg, vice president of automotive for Kenda Tire U.S.A. Inc.
“However, specific niches for cars continue to thrive,” Mr. Stotsenburg said. “Some CUV platforms now demand V- or W-rated products, which are trending toward UHP.
“The drivers that Kenda has seen relate to consumer expectations within the segment,” he said. “There are a lot of low-priced, W-rated products which perform at low levels for a low price. Ultimately consumers who want the look and a Z-rating can be tempted to buy these products.”
Not all tire makers, however, agreed that the performance vehicle market is shrinking. Bridgestone Americas said it still has a loyal customer base of performance vehicle enthusiasts who want the best in UHP tires.
“We think the enthusiast market is still strong,” said Daniel Kelly, product planner, passenger vehicle segment, U.S. and Canada for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
“That market is not really going anywhere, at least for the foreseeable future. We’re still in an awesome era of performance vehicles.”
There is a growing trend in performance SUVs, such as the BMW X5M; performance CUVs, such as the Porsche Macan; and even performance off-road vehicles, such as the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Mr. Kelly noted.
“But SUVs and CUVs are still a smaller portion of the UHP market,” he said.
With recent changes in the vehicle market, performance vehicles are more or less in the eye of the beholder, according to Kevin Arima, senior product manager, product planning and technical services for Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp.
“While the sports car segment has declined in recent years, some vehicles that were traditionally considered a non-performance vehicle now have horsepower outputs that you can argue is a performance vehicle,” Mr. Arima said.
A Toyota Camry, for example, can be offered with an engine rated at more than 300 horsepower, he said.
Pirelli said it has developed the Scorpion Zero AS for car markers and the Scorpion Zero AS+ as replacement tires for SUVs.
“We see growth in UHP SUV and CUV tries as an upward trend, as vehicle manufacturers are responding to consumer interest and increasing their offerings in performance-oriented CUVs and SUVs,” the company said.
“Overall, sales of new vehicles are shifting towards light trucks, SUVs and CUVs, and we expect the OEMs to expand their offerings to sportier models, which will help drive UHP tire sales in these segments,” Mr. Arima said.
Indian tire maker Apollo Tyres Ltd. said it is finding a higher growth rate in UHP tires for light trucks, SUVs and especially CUVs.
“Also, we see the LT and SUV segments as a big growth opportunity for the company, and product development is under way in these segments,” said Yograj Varma of Apollo’s corporate communications.
Apollo recently developed an all-weather tire, the Quatrac Pro, designed specifically for the UHP segment.
“Unlike all-season tires, all-weather tires stay soft and give grip at temperatures above and below 7 degrees Celsius, so they’ve become a popular year-round tire in cities like Boston, Chicago, Toronto and Vancouver,” Mr. Varma said.
Mr. Briggs touted Yokohama’s all-season UHP tire, the Advan Sport A/S, which was introduced in late 2014 and will be upgraded to the Advan Sport A/S+ this September.
Kenda’s all-season UHP tire, the Vezda KR400, offers “excellent” traction, low noise levels and “exceptional” wet/all-season traction and braking, according to Mr. Stotsenburg.
The Vezda KR400’s traction, he said, “indicates a product which mirrors upper-tier summer performance,” he said.
Michelin is developing UHP tires in larger sizes to satisfy the shift from performance cars to performance CUVs, according to the company.
“Last year we launched several new CUV sizes in the Pilot Sport A/S 3+, and we just launched the Pilot Sport 4 SUV line specifically for high-performance CUVs and SUVs,” Michelin said.
Bridgestone mentioned its Potenza RE-71R as a tire of choice for car club racing enthusiasts, such as those affiliated with the Sports Car Club of America.
Nevertheless, the UHP tire retains the same performance qualities in whatever market it serves.
“By definition, performance is still the priority, including wet and dry grip,” Mr. Briggs said.
“The higher up in the category one goes, the more important some of the more refined performance attributes, such as noise and comfort, become.”