Making sense of the light truck tire customer.
With so many vehicles requiring light truck tires on the road, where do you start when an LT tire customer walks through your door?
“You need to know the OE tire fitment size, the specification of the tire regarding its service index, its load index and its speed rating,” says Greg Cressman, Director, Technical Services Department, Yokohama. “You don’t want to deviate too much from that unless there’s good reason.”
Cressman recommends learning from the customer about the application. “He goes to the cottage. He hauls on unpaved roads. He needs more traction to get to the fishing hole, and that may point him towards an AT tire,” he says. “The discussion should be about how he is going to use the tire, where he is going with it, what sort of road surfaces, what sort of traction characteristics, even whether they’re in the rain a lot.”
Many light trucks are just bought for personal use. “That may be a little less obvious, but a good retailer is going to be very aware of it,” says Cressman. “Some users may want P-metric or passenger tires for their light truck because they’re cheaper or less noisy. That’s a tough spot for a retailer.
“If that vehicle was to change hands, or somebody was to use it as a true light truck, and started loading it up every day, you would overstress those tires and have a potential safety concern. It’s not something I would do readily as a retailer.”
All-terrain tires can work as a daily driver tire. “They’re liveable on a day-to-day basis,” says Cressman. “But they have capability on some off-road conditions, and give you the traction and the durability you would want for good value.”
With dual tire applications, retailers need to take heed. “The specification or the type of tire that’s trying to be applied in a dual tire application maybe gets a little askew where the spacing of the duals is really compromised,” says Cressman. “The dual spacing impacts heat generation, and if you don’t respect that, you can end up with a potential safety concern.”
One of the shifts in the vehicle market is that pick-up trucks have become much more liveable. “There is a segment of the truck market that is highly concerned with aesthetics,” says Karl Koeningstein, Product Category Manager, Light Trucks, Michelin. “This is the same segment that sometimes puts oversized tires on, or lifts the vehicle for more ground clearance.”
In that situation, the retailer needs to be sure the customer understands that there are trade-offs. “Tires that look terrific for off-road usually aren’t as quiet as highway tires,” says Koeningstein. “You may have to qualify the customer and ask them if they realize these tires may not last as long as another tire. It needs to be an eyes-wide-open transaction, so the customer is satisfied.”
Keith Willcome, Project Engineer Application Engineering Group, at Bridgestone, notes that 80% of customers have done some level of online research. “They’re familiar with a few tire options,” he says. “Customers are expecting more from tires and fewer compromises.”
He recommends retailers ask what customers like about their vehicle, and what they want to improve on their vehicle. “Tires can make a huge difference,” says Willcome. “Retailers need to have a good understanding of what their tires are designed for.”