When it comes to ultra-high performance tires, is China ready to deliver ?
To answer this, it is important to first understand what Ultra-High Performance Tires (UHP) are, and how the manufacture of the UHP segment differs from standard passenger tires.
UHP tires have their roots in motorsports and were designed to meet the demands of high speed driving. They are typified by speed ratings of W or higher, stiff sidewalls for handling greater lateral and longitudinal forces generated at high speed, large tread blocks for dry traction, and fast wearing rubber compounds that help them “stick” to the road.
Beneath the surface, UHP tires feature a nylon cap over the steel belts to ensure the tire does not deflect or lose its shape under high speed applications.
Automobile manufacturers quickly realized the advantages performance tires provided their vehicles. Performance tires enhanced their vehicles in ways they had not previously imagined. They handled better, cornered better, stopped better, steered better, and worked well with the new anti-lock brake technology that had become omnipresent. So, it should be no surprise that UHP tires are here to stay.
The manufacture of UHP tires is not ubiquitous across all tier 2 and 3 brands, as it requires more resources in terms of R&D, and investment in manufacturing and tooling complexities. In short, producing UHP tires leads to longer times in terms of achieving ROI, compared to broad line products. When manufacturing any tire, economies of scale are the single most important consideration.
Now that we have a general understanding of UHP tires, let’s address the question of whether Chinese manufacturers “are there yet.” Historically, for many Chinese tire manufacturers, of which many are simply raw material convertors, to even exist it’s simply a numbers game. The game is all about volume—produce as many tires as possible regardless of demand.
However, a gap has developed between what these manufacturers produce and what the market needs. This problem is exacerbated by disparities in global demand for varying sizes, making it difficult for these manufacturers to capitalize on economies of scale and justify production of less common sizes and models.
However, as relationships between these manufacturers and national wholesalers strengthen, their knowledge of specific market demands increases, resulting in a strategic attitude adjustment. These savvy manufacturers are making their offers more sophisticated and market driven. But again, it’s a numbers game and, for the UHP tire segment production, hinges on whether they can justify the hefty investment costs of producing such a tire.
Making the business case
So, is China capable of producing a competitive UHP tire? Absolutely! They possess the access to materials and technical expertise to make a great UHP tire.
Are they willing to produce a competitive UHP tire? In a few cases, yes, but generally, no… not until a persuasive business case can be made for entering the segment.
However, ask me again in 18 months and my answer might just change. If you’re looking for a well-made UHP tire from China, look to brands with well-established longstanding relationships with their market players. They’re most likely to produce something worth considering.