CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Ultra-high-performance (UHP) tires, once the domain of speed freaks and motorheads, continue to gain additional traction with auto makers and replacement buyers in emerging market segments.
As U.S. consumer preferences gravitate toward larger vehicles — think CUVs, SUVs and light trucks — the shift creates new opportunities for UHP tires that were once mostly associated with sports cars.
UHP offerings, designed to perform better than traditional all-season tires, are seeing their way on to new vehicles at an increasing clip in a years-long trend that ultimately also opens more opportunities in replacement markets.
"The UHP market is no longer just about high-performance packaged coupes and sedans. It has now carried over into SUVs and CUVs," said Sonny McDonald, national training manager for Toyo Tires Corp. USA.
"In the past, UHP consumers were always thought of as driving/auto enthusiasts, gear heads, etc. Today, we now have the 'accidental UHP customer' who buys mid-level coupes and sedans packaged with a tire featuring a traditional UHP size," Mr. McDonald said.
While more and more vehicle types are being spec'd OE with UHP tires, overall demand for H-, V- and Z-rated, low-profile tires has plateaued the past several years, according to U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) data.
The performance category's OE share fell slightly in 2019 to 54.9% of overall shipments, the USTMA data revealed, and has now plateaued at the 55% to 57% level for the past four years. (See chart above and trend graph on page 19.)
The slowing of growth in demand at OE reflects the shifting mix of vehicles produced in the U.S., to the utility category (SUVs, CUVS,) from the more traditional sedan/coupe/station wagon categories.
As the UHP market evolves and expands, so do the factors tire manufacturers must consider when designing these tires, Toyo's Mr. McDonald said.
"The UHP market has always been a benchmark for any tire manufacture when it comes to highlighting new advances in tire designs, compounding and construction. The trend toward high-performance hybrids and electric vehicles puts additional challenges in developing new UHP products that will have to account for heavier weight, more torque and lower pattern/road noise," Mr. McDonald said.
"In the past, the only consideration for a UHP tire was how well do they stick on dry pavement and still be reasonable in the wet," he said.
At American Kenda Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd., Vice President of Automotive Brandon Stotsenburg called UHP "an important and growing segment."
"Many CUVs are continuing to evolve and trend for more handling characteristics, which require, at minimum, V-rated grand touring tires. Some premium CUVs do require W-rated UHP tires with suspension systems to maximize handling," Mr. Stotsenburg said.
"Dealers should be aware of this continuing trend and educate these customers to find the best tire to meet their driving needs," he said.