Friday, February 12, 2016

SEMA looks at tire trends for 2016

Excerpted from an article written by Steve Campbell at SEMA - the Specialty Equipment Market Association

Photo of a Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3  which has a unique 'hybrid' design between an all-terrain and mud terrain - photo courtesy SEMA
They are still round and black, but the tire business in 2016 is undergoing changes.  The dumping of low-priced low-end Chinese tires into the United States brought about new government fees last Summer on imported tires, a move designed to equal the playing field for domestic suppliers. The move created fears that companies catering to low-end tire markets might suffer, but the drop-off appears not to have been as severe as originally thought.

“I buy a lot of Chinese tires, and the impact was negligible—less than 5%,” said Hank Feldman, president of Performance Plus Tire and Automotive Superstore. “The Chinese were bringing in what are called tier-three and tier-four tires, and none of the tier-one manufacturers—Michelin, Bridgestone, the major manufacturers—build those low-end products. The tariff really hasn’t accomplished much at this point, because raw-materials costs continue to drop, so we’ve seen very little in price change."

While the sale of low-cost import tires seems to have had little impact on the market, Internet sales are revolutionizing the tire industry. Some estimates put Internet tire sales in the neighborhood of 40% in the next few years, and Feldman said that the only thing saving brick-and-mortar stores currently is the fact that consumers cannot install tires or fix cars online, otherwise brick-and-mortar tire retailers could go the way of book and music stores.

Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association, said that Internet sales from tire manufacturers are undoubtedly the most significant trend in the industry. “Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin have all introduced programs for consumers to purchase tires direct from the manufacturer and then have a local dealer install them,” he said. “Under this system, the dealer does not collect any money directly from the consumer and receives a credit from the manufacturer.”

The specifics of tire manufacturing have also undergone some evolutionary changes. For instance, tire makers are introducing more products designed specifically for the quickly growing crossover vehicle market, and the industry is developing more light-truck tires that have off-road capabilities but improved on-road behavior.

“The biggest trend in the design area is probably the incorporation of low rolling resistance (LRR) properties in all tires,” Rohlwing said. “Tread designs and compounds on broad-line tires are providing more LRR features even though they aren’t marketed as LRR tires. The major manufacturers are pushing for regulations that will require all tires to meet LRR standards.”

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