The all-season tire market is growing strongly, says Nokian

The all-season tire market is growing strongly, says Nokian

The all-season tire market is growing strongly

Scandinavian tire manufacturer Nokian Tires conducted a survey to understand the approval rate of all-season tires in 4 central European countries - France, Germany, Italy, Poland - and the results speak for themselves: at least 50% of the motorists surveyed believes that all-season tires are safe enough to be used all year round, thus avoiding the need to change tires according to the season.

Nokian conducted this survey in May 2020, interviewing a total of 1200 motorists divided equally on the 4 countries involved, to understand what are the aspects on which we can improve and what are the main strengths.

In Central Europe, we are seeing it also these days , the climate can change unexpectedly and suddenly even out of season, and it is therefore very important that the tires installed are able to handle different situations. ions: 74% of Polish respondents believe that the aspect of safety 365 days a year is the most important, while in Italy and Germany, with 70% and 63% respectively, all-season tires are chosen for a matter of practical convenience. About 37% of all respondents still believe that in winter it is necessary to use specific tires to drive better on snow and muddy roads.

Speaking instead of aspects that can be improved, the request more frequent has been to have tires that improve fuel consumption, followed by greater wear resistance and lower retail prices.

All this information has converged in the creation of the new line of Nokian Seasonproof tires, which offer drivers who do not want to change tires during the year a practical and simple solution. The entire range is 3PMSF certified and is therefore approved for winter use, and is offered in 64 variants compatible with rims with a diameter between 14 and 19 inches, with different speed ratings between T (190 km / h) and W (270 km / h).

At the end of the survey, Nokian asked a rather peculiar question: he asked his interviewees if they think that the climate change we are experiencing will make it more efficient and comfortable all-season tires, and 77% of respondents said yes.

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Customers confused about all-season vs. all-weather tires

Several tire makers have been introducing so-called 'all-weather' tires that not only offer the features of an all-season tire, but also carry the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) rating for snow traction.

But do consumers realize the difference between an all-season and all-weather tire?

'There's not only confusion with the consumers, but sometimes I feel there's a little bit of confusion within the tire industry itself,' Robert Nasca, product training manager for Hankook Tire America Corp., said.

'Consumers are just reading the words, reading the marketing material we have out there and, unfortunately, I don't think the tire industry as a whole has done a good job about advertising with the product launches or even giving education to the consumers and to the tire retailers, as well. There definitely is some confusion out there,' he said.

The latest technology in tire design has enabled engineers to improve snow and slush traction in an all-season tire so as to earn the industry's 3PMSF designation—where testing designates the passenger or light truck tire has a traction index equal to, or greater than, 110 (compared with a reference tire that is rated 100) on packed snow.

'The M+S marking on the (all-season) sidewall leads customers to believe they are both the same,' Conrad Galamgam, vice president of product planning and technical services at Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., said.

'Over the past few years, leading consumer magazines have featured and promoted tires that are all-weather, and of course tire manufacturers are advertising their products as being all-weather, having the additional 3PMSF symbol. But despite all that, consumers still may not understand the benefits of an all-weather vs. all-season if additional winter traction is needed.

'That's why it is so important that tire dealers have the proper training to highlight the features of a tire that promote it as an all-weather 3PMS performance over a standard M+S rating. Toyo offers online training courses to our authorized dealers that highlights the features and benefits for its all-weather 3PMS products like the Celsius and Open Country AT3,' he said.

'If I'm super frank about it, I think there is confusion within the industry about it ...,' Will Robbins, senior product manager, consumer replacement product strategy at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO), said.

'But I think we have struggled a little bit to talk about, 'Is it a new category of tire? Is it an expansion of an existing category of tire?'

'And I think especially when it comes to talking with dealers and talking with consumers, it can get extremely confusing,' he continued, 'and that's why messaging and education is so important from our part to make sure we're talking about these tires in a way people can understand,' he said.

To add to the confusion, Goodyear claims it has been using the term 'all weather' tires for a century and prefers to call an all-season tire with 3PMSF, an 'enhanced all-season' tire.

'Sometimes we put our blinders on within the industry and just talk about these small differences between tires. But the end-consumer absolutely sees no difference between all-season and the term 'all-weather.' And they are used interchangeably,' said Mike Pulte, Goodyear's general manager of product, marketing and innovation.

'Trying to create a category doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about the consumer. They don't see it that way. Having a tire with better all-season capability—we call it 'enhanced all-season capability'—makes a lot of sense for a lot of consumers.'

Pulte pointed out that all-terrain tires have been introduced with 3PMSF markings, as well.

'It would add a lot of confusion in the marketplace to try to say (all-weather) is a whole new category of tires. That part just doesn't make sense because it's already kind of ingrained in the different subcategories—commuter touring tire, regular broad-market tires, all-terrain tires.

'So what dealers tend to do is they use that extra marking as another benefit. It's a feature on the tire but it's a benefit for the end-consumer of having that extra traction in poor weather.'

Meanwhile, Vernon, British Columbia-based Kal Tire, through its website, prefers to call the traditional all-season tires '3-season tires,' as opposed to all-weather tires designed for driving in all four seasons.

'Part of the difficulty of talking about all-weather is that if a product has a three-peak mark, then technically it's really severe-snow-rated. … Winter tires are 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake marked, but they're not necessarily designed for year-round use. So it's the marking plus that intention from the company on how the product was designed to be used, in what we call traditional all-season conditions, that really make a product an all-weather product,' BATO's Robbins said.

New products

In the last few years, several tire makers have been introducing their versions of an all-weather tire with the 3PMSF designation to the North American market.

Hankook introduced its Kinergy 4S2 all-weather to the U.S. market last fall, after offering it in the European and Canadian markets since 2018.

'The level of technology this tire offers to consumers, it's just something new that we see the market moving toward. Consumers are always wanting something new, and we think this is an excellent category, an excellent segment for Hankook to go into,' Hankook's Nasca said.

'We've definitely seen (market growth) in European and Canadian markets, and that's why we feel it's going to be a great fit for U.S. consumers. The first initial orders have been very successful, and we're very proud of them, and we do anticipate increased sales for the next couple of years. Initial feedback from our customers and our accounts have been very positive, and we've received positive feedback from consumers.'

Goodyear said it has had great success with its Assurance WeatherReady with 3PMSF, which was introduced a few years ago.

Bridgestone introduced the Firestone WeatherGrip in 2019 to replace its Champion Fuelfighter touring product.

'We're confident that the WeatherGrip offers all that performance plus more,' Robbins said. 'The product does seem to resonate with consumers, but part of it is a choice of the tire manufacturers—we're phasing in new all-weather products as we are phasing out older products.'

In 2017 Michelin launched the CrossClimate+ in Europe and did a market trial in North America.

As the tire was well-received, it led to the recent launch of a full all-weather line in North America, the CrossClimate2, according to Russell Shepherd, technical communications director, Michelin North America Inc.

Design challenges

Designing a tire that provides performance and traction in nearly all types of road conditions is a challenge.

The vehicle OEMs traditionally have pushed tire makers to develop certain technologies in their tires, such as fuel efficiency, ride comfort, noise reduction, etc., which first are used as OE fitments and then offered as replacement tires. But the all-weather tire is the exception.

'This is an area where the (tire) industry has really taken the lead on the replacement side first,' BATO's Robbins said, noting the vehicle manufacturers haven't shown a strong interest in all-weather OE fitments.

'I think if you asked one of our tire engineers maybe 10 years ago to develop this tire, I think they would have said we're crazy,' Hankook's Nasca said.

'But it's been exceptional, the amount of technology that we have, with the Kontrol Technology, and a testament to our engineers and also to our research facility in Akron, Ohio, that have been able to perform and create a tire that has great wet and dry performances, but also the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake with a treadwear warranty on it.'

When Michelin unveiled its CrossClimate2, it declared the tire its 'biggest passenger tire innovation' in 20 years.

'Designing a tire that has excellent wet stopping, dry stopping, longevity, and meets the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification for snow traction was a challenge but the CrossClimate2 tire manages to provide all of those things, which are important to consumers,' Shepherd said.

The tire makers said they have used the latest technologies to minimize trade-offs: multiple sipes, improved tread compounding, better tread design, etc.

'That balance of providing the snow traction while minimizing or eliminating trade-offs is really where the technology comes in,' BATO's Robbins said, noting that using three-dimensional sipes was 'a game-changer.'

'We're really trying to stretch that spider chart, so to speak, in many different directions. We're really able to get a lot more capability because we added soy oil and we've really leveraged that soy oil. Not only is it sustainable and renewable, which is fantastic, but it also gives us a lot more flexibility of the compound through a wider temperature range,' Goodyear's Pulte said, adding, 'that's big challenge, maintaining traction over a wider range of temperatures.'

Target markets

The all-weather tire is well-suited in areas where people haven't historically used winter tires but experience a few days a year where the winter weather gets bad, according to tire makers.

'As winter events have reached into the southern regions of the U.S.A., large metropolitan areas like Houston and Atlanta have experienced more severe winter conditions and all-weather tires would be an excellent option to consider over traditional all-season tires,' Toyo's Galamgam said.

'We've seen sales across the U.S. and even into Canada. The transitional areas of the country seem to be where the value proposition of an all-weather product resonates the most,' BATO's Robbins said.

'Having that enhanced all-season capability makes sense for a lot of different consumers. So we really offer it across the whole U.S.,' Goodyear's Pulte added.

While consumers in the warmer South and West may be less interested in an all-weather tire, there are residents in those areas who need extra traction for ski trips in the mountains or traveling north during the winter months.

'CrossClimate2 tire performs well in the U.S., so we don't see issues with receptivity,' Michelin's Shepherd said, however the all-weather tire is not as relevant in Canada.

Left, Goodyear Assurance WeatherReady. Right, Firestone WeatherGrip.

'In places like Florida, wet traction performance appeals to consumers. In northern states, the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake certification appeals to consumers.'

But consumers who routinely switch between winter tires and all-season/summer tires tend to be winter-tire loyalists.

'If you truly are in an area that's very snowy, and you end up driving on hard-packed snow or deeper snow, those folks tend to switch (to winter tires) already, and I think the capability of a dedicated snow tire is just so good that those people will probably tend to continue to switch,' Goodyear's Pulte said, noting that people who already buy all-season tires, but want more snow traction, will opt for enhanced all-season vs. winter tires.

'I personally think our winter tire customers out there are loyal. They know what they want, they know what they need. And they might be a little bit more experienced from the fact that they are actually buying winter tires. The consumers that buy winter tires know the cost benefits of it and know the restrictions that go along with it (i.e. changing seasonal tires),' Nasca said.

'But I think with the new generation of drivers coming along, they're not going to want to mess with another set of tires or another set of rims or going back again to the retailers to exchange (seasonal tires).'

Canadian reception

In Canada, where dedicated winter tires are popular, there is some hesitancy to adopt all-weather tires.

'If you're in an environment where the roads are cleared a fair amount, you might switch to the enhanced all-season, instead of a regular all-season. But the people that switch (to winter tires) are probably still really liking their snow tires. A winter tire still has better traction in the snow and so it's a good choice, but it does come with a little extra burden of having to switch your tires out. But for consumers that want that extra confidence in the winter, that makes sense,' Goodyear's Pulte said.

Point S Canada, a Boucherville, Quebec-based tire distributor, has been carrying all-weather tires for the Canadian market for the past five years.

Ann Turcotte, Point S senior director of purchasing, said that these tires sell better in the cities, where the streets are regularly plowed in the winter.

Otherwise, 'because of the conditions in Canada in the winter, it's hard conditions, so you need real, true winter tires. But in greater Montreal, they don't need a real, true winter tire. We see a little bit of increase (in all-weather tire sales there),' she said.

Consumers in big cities, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, will usually be more interested in all-weather tires because they don't get as much snow, she said. But she predicts all-weather tires will continue to be a niche market in Canada going forward.

'We went to Toronto in late January last year. Our message to Canadians was, 'Look guys, you should have winter tires. But if for some reason you don't, and you've been trying to get around on all-season tires, all-weather is a great option in a metropolitan area like Toronto, that's a little milder than being in Calgary,'' Wes Boling, Nokian's senior communications and content manager, said.

Market share

It seems to be a consensus among tire companies that all-weather tires may eventually chip away at the all-season market share, rather than the winter tire market share.

'According to our results, it's definitely that people are upgrading from the all-season, not downgrading from the winter,' Tommi Heinonen, Nokian Tyres P.L.C.'s vice president of sales in North America, said.

'We are very happy about that because that's exactly how we want to go with it. If there is a consumer who needs winter tires, we never ever like to downgrade them to the all-weather, but the safest choice is to have a true winter and then a summer or all-season. But if there is a consumer who should be buying winter tires but he or she won't do it, then upgrading from the all-season to the all-weather is a great option,' Heinonen said.

'Right now in the next five to 10 years, I definitely don't see (all-weather) making a huge impact on or cutting into our sales of all-season or winter tires,' Hankook's Nasca said.

'But in the future, absolutely. I think as the market grows and the education grows, I think it definitely can make a difference. And it's mostly going to be in certain segments. … I think it's going to mostly have an impact on northern states, especially the Northeast or the Northwest where you have colder weather but also some snow.'

Dealer education

It's incumbent upon tire dealers to educate themselves on all-weather tire attributes so they can educate their customers, the tire makers said.

'It's about making sure they are educating themselves and holding us accountable for making sure that they are confident in a product they understand, and they are going to be able to sell it,' BATO's Robbins said.

'We've done a lot of work with our education team to make sure the materials are available and really helping dealers understand that. If we're not giving them what they need, they should let us know, and we can always do a better job with that. I think it's really just focusing on simply what these tires can do for consumers. It's like a super all-season almost,' he said.

Dealers can tell customers interested in all-weather tires: ''This is everything you loved about the all-season products that we had in the past, but it has this extra capability,'' Robbins said.

'If it's once a year or twice a year that your consumers only get to use (snow traction), it's still better for them in that condition while being equally good, and in some cases better, in the wet, in the dry, for ride comfort, things like that.

'So it really is about that messaging—offering more rather than some type of compromise, which never really plays well when you're talking to dealers and consumers,' Robbins said.

Goodyear's Pulte said tire dealers have the advantage of understanding their customers' needs.

'Listen to the consumer. What do they like about their vehicle? How do they use their vehicle? And then where are the tires working for them today and what would they like more of? If they would like a little more traction in some bad weather, probably an enhanced all-season tire would make sense,' he said.

Don Detore, Tire Business editor, contributed to this story.

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