AKRON — Is it time for the industry to consider adding "all-weather" to the accepted product mix vocabulary?
There's a growing community of players, led by Nokian Tyres, Kal Tire and others, arguing that the time has come to add all-weather tires as a distinct category to the mix of products for customers in areas of the U.S. and/or Canada that experience "milder" winter conditions.
All-weather — or "four seasons" — tires are considered an upgrade on the traditional "all-season" tires, which some have started calling "three-season" tires.
- This article appears in the April 29 print edition of Tire Business.
This trend coincides with the growing use of the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMS) symbol as a marketing tool to promote a tire's winter performance capabilities.
Launched in 1999 jointly by the Rubber Manufacturers Association (now the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, or USTMA) and Rubber Association of Canada (now Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, or TRAC), the 3PMS is a performance-based standard to identify passenger and light truck tires that attain a traction index equal to, or greater than 110 (compared with a reference tire that is rated 100) during the specified American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) traction tests on packed snow.
The standard was developed to help consumers identify tires more easily that provide a higher level of snow traction, the associations have stated.
Tire makers themselves conduct the tests and determine whether to designate their products with the 3PMS. There is no third-party testing or oversight, although Consumer Reports, Tire Rack and others have been comparing and contrasting the traction qualities of 3PMS tires versus all-seasons and "true" winter tires in recent articles.
The ASTM reference tire is a Uniroyal Tiger Paw.
The 3PMS designation differs from the older, 1970s-vintage M+S (mud & snow) designation for winter tires, which is based on physical design characteristics, such as the size, direction, depth, angle, width, etc. of tread elements. An M+S tire should have a tread contact surface void area of at least 25 percent, based on mold dimensions, according to a USTMA Tire Information Service Bulletin.
In Canada, Kal Tire has embraced the all-weather designation, promoting the category on its website with a schematic showing the differences between all-weather, all-season (which it shows as "3-season") and winter tires, both studded and non-studded.
In this schematic, Kal suggests all-weather tires are an appropriate choice for "milder winter conditions, with heavy rain, snowfall that melts quickly and slush" and capable of performing in conditions both above and below the 45 degree (7 degree C) winter/summer tire temperature threshold.
The description for all/3-season tires is "warm, dry and mild wet conditions."
The 3PMS designation, in many circles, has become acceptable for winter driving in areas that require winter tires, such as mountainous regions or in Quebec, where winter tires have been mandatory on passenger vehicles and taxis during winter months since the winter of 2008-09.