If we were giving out prizes for the “sexiest tire segment,” surely UHP tires would win first place.
After all, there’s nothing more exciting that an exotic vehicle shod with ultra-high-performance rubber. A close second would be the HP tire segment, although it’s no longer the exclusive playground for high-performance vehicles.
In fact, today you can expect an average family sedan to roll into your bays looking for HP tires. That’s the way it came from the factory, and that’s what the manufacturer requires… often to the surprise of the vehicle owner.
According to Angela Crivoi, Market Planning Manager, Consumer Segment, Yokohama Tire Canada, we’re seeing other trends in this side of the market. Trends that tire retailers should pay close attention to.
“We have a touring segment, an HP segment and a UHP segment,” Crivoi explains. “What I see now is the touring segment slowly merging with the HP segment. For example, a lot of tire manufacturers produce tires with different speed ratings, because the definition of a HP or UHP tire comes down to speed rating and high wheel diameters.”
Traditionally, Crivoi explains, a V speed rating would be for an HP tire, while a W or Y speed rating would be for a UHP tire. Now, however, we’re seeing touring tires with a V speed rating as well.” Why? “I believe tire manufacturers are giving consumers more choice,” she adds. “If they want more of a performance tire, they can have it. But if they want more of a standard touring tire, it’s available as well.”
Crivoi says she has seen a growth in the number of V-rated tires available in the market—5% growth over the past four years—while the H speed rating hasn’t grown at all.
Another key trend is the move to HP tires on what would normally be considered somewhat mundane family vehicles. Crivoi offers the Toyota Corolla as an example of what she is seeing in the industry.
“Five years ago, you would not see HP tires on a Toyota Corolla,” she says. “But look what is happening now—you have 16-inch tires with a V speed rating, and 17-inch tires with a W speed rating. It’s all about giving consumers choice. If they want more performance and they want something different, it’s up to them.”
Steve Calder, Technical Marketing Manager, Michelin North America recently compared sales figures from 2008 and 2018 for North American vehicles and was able to see a definite trend in the type of tires we’re seeing on modern vehicles.
“Between 2008 and 2018 the number of vehicles sold increased by 30%,” Calder explains. “But the number of vehicles that come with Z-rated tires jumped by 80%. On the flip side, anything less than H, S or T declined by 20%. So there’s a clear shift in the market. It seems that the speed ratings are all kind of conglomerating up towards either H, V or Z.”
Blame the OEM
Automakers, says Calder, are the ones pushing the envelope.
They’re the reason we’re seeing this shift in the tire market. “A lot of it has just been the evolution of vehicle performance over the past decades, which has driven manufacturers to move to higher and higher speed ratings,” he explains.
“Even the base Camry today has 208 horsepower, which is more than most muscle cars up through even the mid-’90s had. I remember Corvettes having well under 200 horsepower and Mustangs having just right around 200 horsepower. Now the base Camry has 208 horsepower. It’s the performance level of today’s vehicles that has driven the move to higher speed ratings.”
The world of HP and UHP tires is evolving quickly. For example, five years ago if you bought a HP or UHP tire, you would have had to make compromises on treadwear and noise. Crivoi says that’s no longer the case. “With new technologies and compounds, you can have a HP or UHP tire without compromise,” she says. “It’s amazing what is coming out on the market.”
These high-performance tires can be tuned to optimize the characteristics potential customers are looking for. “To achieve the speed rating,” Calder explains, “it’s the internal construction of the tire [that matters the most]. So the tire has to be able to spin up or past a certain mile per hour for an extended duration on a drum to achieve the speed rating.”
As the speeds go up, the internal construction of the tire needs to become more robust. “So that’s generally where we use some tougher materials,” Calder adds. “For example, many of the UHP tires today have Kevlar in them to constrain the tire at these higher speeds, to keep the steel belts from wanting to tear away from the rest of the structure. So it’s the internal construction that allows the tire to achieve those speed ratings.”
Once the internal structure is optimized, the rest of the tire can be fine-tuned to meet the demands of the consumer. “You can tune the compounds,” Calder adds. “Now that you’ve achieved the speed rating, what kind of performance do you want to go for? Are we going for a summer tire, maximizing dry and wet performance? Or are we going to go for a longer wear offer?”
Catering to customers
While it’s clear that we’re seeing a growing number of vehicles with HP tires, the UHP segment, on the other hand, is more tuned to a very specific clientele.
Ugo Desgreniers, Director of Purchasing for Stox Distribution says UHP tires are in demand for high-performance German vehicles, muscle cars, and exotics like Porsche, Ferrari, etc.
An interesting trend in this niche market is a move towards all-season UHP tires. “Years ago, UHP was really a summer tire,” Desgreniers explains. “But in the last few years, all-season UHP tires are getting better, and most people find that their performance is really good. The only difference between all-season UHP and summer UHP tires is evident when you really push the car to the limit. But I will say 95% of people buy the all-season version since it’s quieter and offers a longer tread life.”
We’re living in exciting times, and this ever-changing side of the tire market is one we definitely want to keep an eye on.