CHICAGO — Demand for larger rim-diameter tires — those 18 inches and larger — is growing steadily, following the trend at OE, and now account for 20% of all aftermarket tire sales in the U.S., according to new research from market analysts Circana Group L.P.
"The dynamics of the auto market, the time cars spend on the road, and the ways in which drivers maintain them have shifted," Nathan Shipley, automotive industry analyst for Circana, said.
"Larger rim diameters have become more popular in newer cars, and the higher income consumers who are more likely to buy newer cars are currently spending on car care and maintenance."
Circana bases its trend reporting on sell-out data collected weekly from over a thousand automotive aftermarket businesses around the country that it uses to create customized reports for those retail partners. Circana is the new name/identity for the merged resources of NPD Group L.P. and Information Resources Inc.
Circana said retail sales of 18-inch and larger car and light-truck tires grew 10% in February 2023 versus the prior year month, but Shipley said the trend doesn't vary significantly when tracked over a longer period.
The sales trend tracks closely with original equipment fitment trends of the past few years. Those U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) data show nine of the 10 most popular OE tire sizes the past three years are 18-inch rim diameter and larger. The sole size smaller than that is 225/65R17, which was the No. 1 OE size in 2020.
By contrast, there were four SKUs of 18 inches or larger among the 10 most popular replacement market passenger tire sizes, reflecting the lag time between OE and replacement market trends.
By comparison, imports of passenger tires in the 18-inch and larger rim-diameter category grew 2.2% in the first quarter of 2023 over 2022, to 9.11 million units, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Perhaps more significantly, the average declared import value of an 18-inch and larger passenger tire jumped 19% to $86.89.
Circana's trend data also contrasts with the USTMA shipment forecast for 2023, which projects 1% growth to 215.8 million units. That level, though, still falls shy of the pre-COVID peak of 222.6 million units.
Circana's data indicate 17-inch rim diameter tires make up the largest single grouping of products sold, accounting for 30% of tires sold at retail.
The growth in larger rim sizes varies by region, Circana said, with five of the 10 largest demographic marketing areas (DMAs) for the larger tires located in Texas.
The St. Louis DMA, which underindexes for this rim diameter, is the fastest growing out of all tracked markets, Circana said.
"While the retail replacement tire market appears challenged at the macro level, potential for growth exists," Shipley said.
"Digging deeper to understand demand related to particular products, the behavior of targeted consumer groups, and saturation levels at a regional level can reveal untapped opportunity."