Focus on UHP
UHP tires represent the key segment in the tire industry, Mr. Robison said, and remain a focus for Bridgestone.
"UHP all-season tires are ideal for consumers who live in a region that gets some light winter weather — essentially, they want a tire that provides sporty handling, great wet and dry grip, and mild winter performance," he explained.
"UHP summer tires are designed for someone who wants maximum wet and dry grip, and sporty handling. These tires work best for consumers who live in markets with very mild winters such as Florida or Southern California, or for consumers who plan to switch to a dedicated winter tire in the colder months of the year," Mr. Robison said.
Nexen said there are obvious warm-weather areas where UHP tires traditionally have been more popular.
"Regions dominated by summer environments, such as California and Florida, have strong UHP segments. That being said, as sales of high-performance CUVs and SUVs are expanding throughout the United States, UHP sales are showing an even growth regardless of region," Mr. Lee said.
While vehicle preferences are changing among consumers as fewer and fewer cars are being sold, the demand for "responsive handling and UHP levels of grip will continue to be desired by drivers," Mr. Robison said.
With the nation coming out of the grips of COVID-19, Nexen reflected on market conditions during these difficult times.
"During the COVID-19 period, almost all tire companies were affected by a decrease in the sales of UHP tires as well as other tire segments," Mr. Lee said. "The trend of vehicle performance enhancement will continue, and the tire market will also accelerate into the UHP tire segment according to vehicle trends."
Bridgestone indicated there was an overall decline across all tire categories and segments due to the virus.
"As we are opening back up, tire demands are picking back up across all categories," Mr. Robison said.
Cincinnati-based Tire Discounters, which operates 140 stores in six states, reports that entry-level UHP demand has increased, but supply has been challenging. The supply challenges started in the second half of 2020 and have carried into 2021.
Jeff Campbell, chief supply chain officer at Tire Discounters, said several factors contributed to this trend.
"First, it was due to factory shutdowns during the pandemic, then tariffs on Southeast Asian imports." Mr. Campbell said. "Now, there are shipping container shortages due to unprecedented consumer goods demand.
"Overall, we do see demand continuing to increase in the UHP market, while price point puts a strain on consumers. Manufacturers that can supply a value line will fill a much-needed void and take advantage of the market," he said.
Tire Discounters also sees the ongoing electrification of vehicles as a factor in the use and longevity of UHP tires.
"Tires do not last as long on electric vehicles, so we see the replacement frequency increasing with the growth of electric vehicles driving up the unit volume in UHP. These vehicles are much heavier than their gas-powered counterparts and, coupled with the need for lower-rolling resistance, has decreased the effective mileage rate of tires," Mr. Campbell said.
He expects "the price point for tires that fit electric vehicles will remain high as the Tier 3 and 4 manufacturers will take a few years to catch up. This will drive up the average ticket for UHP."
Yokohama Tire Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd., sees the UHP segment as one aspect of the company's success in 2021 following the negative impacts of COVID-19 on the entire tire manufacturing sector.
"In the near term, we see what has classically been categorized as UHP growing, which is an extension of a consistent trend for about the last decade," YTC CEO Jeff Barna told Tire Business.
"However, just like in other segments, the future UHP tires, specifically in all-season categories will be asked to do more than their predecessors, including but not limited to higher mileage and four-season traction," he said.
Pirelli Tire North America CEO Pietro Berardi believes the UHP market always has been resilient, and the company expects that to continue, noting that people with the financial wherewithal tend to invest in higher-value items.
And once they try UHP tires, they typically do not go back, he said.
"I think UHP is going to grow as a segment, and we want to play a major role as we have done," Mr. Berardi said.
Tire Business Editor Don Detore contributed to this story.