Massive potholes notwithstanding, highway vehicles have little need for mud-terrain tires, but that hasn't stopped some in the growing population of light truck owners from pimping their rides with these aggressive-looking tires.
Mud-terrain (M/T) tires are a small but steadily growing segment of the burgeoning light truck tire segment for most tire makers, in some cases accounting for 5% to 10% of their light-truck tire sales.
And as pickup trucks coming off assembly lines get bigger, the rim diameters of the M/T tires also are increasing as vehicle owners add lift kits.
The upbeat economy has helped this trend.
"If the economy is good, people are buying these bigger vehicles, these Jeeps, these big, full-sized trucks," Terry Smouter, director of sales management for Hankook Tire America Corp., said.
"Usually fuel pricing is reasonable, the economy is good, people have expendable money. ... As long as the economy is in a good state, the segment will continue to grow. They (mud-terrain tires) are expensive."
Although a smaller subset of the light truck and SUV tire segment, demand for M/T tires continues to grow, Will Robbins, product manager for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, said.
"In fact, demand for larger M/T tire sizes, 33-inch diameter and above, has nearly doubled in size over the last 10 years," he said.
"With this growth, we have seen two categories of consumers in the M/T segment emerge: those who demand a durable, dependable tire solution that offers maximum traction in off-road conditions, and an increasing group of light truck and SUV owners who are looking to personalize their vehicles by upgrading their tires with more aggressive tread patterns and a rugged tire aesthetic."
"We anticipate this trend will continue as vehicle manufacturers shift their offerings to include more CUVs and SUVs," he added.
Drew Howlett, Falken Tire Corp.'s product manager for light trucks/SUV products, noted that historically the M/T segment exhibited single-digit annual growth "but in 2018 we saw that segment grow about 10%. It was a pretty large amount of growth last year and then, based on the first six months of this year, we'll probably see another single digit (growth rate) again."
Mud-terrain vs. all-terrain
While mud-terrain tires are designed — as its name indicates — for traversing off-road muddy trails, as well as rock-crawling, there is a growing segment of customers who want their vehicles to look like they go off-roading more often than they probably do.
"We have got part of the market that are hard-core guys who are actually going off-road," David Shelton, Giti North America's director of industry relations, said. "Then there's a whole other group that wants to have the image. We've got guys that the only off-road they see is a pothole."
Mud-terrain tires tend to feature more space between tread blocks and wider voids than all-terrain tires. M/T tires are built specifically for off-road performance and feature aggressive tread patterns with interlocking lugs and large voids to grab and release mud, rocks and debris. They usually also have three-ply construction with reinforced sidewalls for durability when navigating sharp and rocky edges.
The tires are designed for the extreme user who is really going to get into some off-road rocks and mud, Mr. Smouter noted.
The tires also target customers who need to get to work at construction sites, mines or farms, or to get to recreation areas for camping or hunting.
"For us, a mud-terrain tire is really a tire where a consumer is really looking for the most extreme off-road traction," Brandon Sturgis, product manager for Michelin North America's BFGoodrich off-road tires, said.
"So this is the type of consumer who's spending a significant amount of time off road either in mud or on rocks. Even though the tire is called mud-terrain, it spends a lot of time on rocks and used for rock-crawling. So really, that's the big difference between a mud-terrain and an all-terrain — a customer looking for the most extreme traction wants a mud-terrain offer, while the all-terrain segment is someone who is looking for a bit more balanced performance," said Mr. Sturgis, adding that all-terrain tire customers still are looking for off-road capability, but they realize their tires are going to be spending more time on the road.
"I'm not so worried about the creature comforts on the road (with a mud-terrain tire). That was the intent. You visually see the difference in the tread design: bigger blocks; not as many, if any, sipes; and I'm not worried about noise or ride comfort. The biggest difference is the voids and the off-sets so it can bite into the mud," Mr. Shelton said.