More Than Speed Ratings

Dec 1, 2009

Tires are the only source of contact between the road surface and the vehicle they just spent thousands customizing, and yet many automotive enthusiasts overlook the importance of the rubber they are rolling on. Herein lies an opportunity for owners of independent Speed Shops to educate people on the latest in tire technology…and hopefully get the high end products rolling out the door and the cash rolling in.

The Basics

The basics of tires are just that: basic. But it is another one of those automotive topics many people pretend to know, but don’t really.

Modern tire technology blends a unique mix of chemistry, physics and engineering to give consumers a high degree of comfort, performance, efficiency, reliability and safety. Many tires are custom-designed to meet the stresses and performance needs specified by the maker of the particular model vehicle. Every tire is carefully inspected and the individual manufacturers pull random samples for additional safety tests. As part of these tests, tires are x-rayed, cut apart and examined, run on test wheels, or road-tested to evaluate handling, mileage and traction performance. If properly cared for, tires can last a long time-usually from 40,000 to 80,000 miles depending on the application, according to the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association.

Kevin Arima, of Toyo Tires makes sure each of the independent distributors who carry the company’s tires has tire basics down.

“After all, a tire: one, provides an air chamber to support the load of the vehicle; two, acts as a shock absorber; three, transmits forces to the road surface; and four, maintains or changes the direction of travel of a vehicle.  In order to provide these functions as effectively as possible, tire maintenance is of the utmost importance. Consumers should subject their tires to regular inspection and maintenance. They should routinely check the air pressure – at least once per month including the spare – and inflate them to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation.  This can be found on the tire information placard usually found inside one of the car doors.”

“The tires should also be closely inspected by a tire service professional on a lift during recommended rotation intervals such as every 5,000 to 7,500 miles or according to the recommendation in the owner’s manual.”

Be A Tire Professional

That tire professional can well be your Speed Shop which is a great opportunity to sell another set of tires. When it comes to straight sales floor techniques, Toyo’s Joshua Loring suggests focusing on that value.

“Start at the top,” Loring says. “In other words,don’t be afraid to upsell. This is not to suggest trying to sell the most expensive brand you have, or something the consumer doesn’t need, but the emphasis should be on quality and value.It’s important to note that with quality comes a price, and this should be presented as value to the consumer. The ‘value’ stands for all the things the consumer is likely concerned about: safety, performance, handling, tire life, etc. With each consumer having different needs, it should go without saying that the most important thing you can do is qualifying the consumer. You have to know exactly what the characteristics are that the consumer perceives as making a tire a value. The ‘enthusiast’ consumers, only interested in ultra-high performance tires, may not be as concerned about characteristics such as tire life and snow traction. But they still want value knowing that they’re getting the best tire for the money. They want to be assured that they’re getting what they’re paying for. If they understand this, then it makes the selling process that much easier.”

Speed Ratings

Phil Pacsi, the VP North American Consumer Tire Marketing for Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC, backs all this up.

“Tires have many different design characteristics, components and sophisticated technologies that the consumer cannot see,” Pacsi says. “As a tire manufacturer, we work to educate the consumer so that he or she can best select the tire to suit their wants and needs.  Things often taken into consideration in the selection of any tire include driving style or desired performance attributes including handling (wet and dry) as well as performance to mileage.”

This knowledge has value to your Speed Shop customers-¦something that is sure to transfer back to your shop’s bottom line.

“This is why it is so important for the Speed Shop sales reps to become knowledgeable about tires,” Pacsi continues. “They can assist the customer and put them in the right tires for their driving needs the first time, and create a happy customer. Depending on what is desired from the end user, a tire retailer can help the customer decide what tire is best for the need, application and desired end use.”

Speed Ratings:

Q – Up to 100mph
R – Up to 106mph
S – Up to 112mph
T – Up to118mph
U – Up to 124mph
H – Up to 130mph
V – Up to 149mph
W – Up to 168mph
Y – Up to 186mph
Z – 149mpg and over

One of the most common areas of tire misunderstanding from automotive enthusiasts buying tires comes when interpreting Speed Ratings. According to the Tire Manufacturers Association, speed ratings can be explained to your customers by consulting the information above.

Tread Wear

As long as we are on the topic of misunderstood numbers, the tread wear rating of tires is closely related to the Speed Rating, and about as well understood says Darren Thomas of Falken Tire in California.

The Tread wear rating determines the level of performance of the tire. The lower number Tread wear indicates it will wear faster, but has a softer compound, which results in more grip and higher performance.

“Today’s high performance tires are designed for a very specific style of driving, from street performance to autocross to drag strip to grocery getting,” Thomas said. “The tradeoff between performance and wear is something your customers need to be aware of, and if they know about it, they will feel better about buying the higher end product if they are not surprised by faster wear.”

A Few Items For The Future

When the tire industry as a whole looks to the future, one topic comes to the fore: low rolling resistance. Many manufacturers today are touting tires that have been specially designed for lower rolling resistance with lightweight, high-strength construction. This maximizes fuel efficiency, which contributes to cleaner-running vehicles, because, as a rule, vehicles that use less fuel also produce fewer emissions. And since fuel economy seems very important in most vehicle types these days, tire manufactures are taking notice.

Another tire trend is “run-flat tires” which can be found today on such adrenaline boosting vehicles such as the Toyota Previa minivan. Roll flat tires use very stiff sidewalls that can support the weight of the vehicle in the event of a flat. Several tire companies offer this type of run-flat, and they can typically be driven with no air pressure for about 50 miles at speeds up to 55 mph. However, most cannot be repaired after being punctured.

The sidewalls can’t be very tall, so most are low-profile designs. Because of this, they are typically used on sports cars such as the Dodge Viper, though they’re also available for regular passenger cars.

Truck Tires

When talking tires, Brad Williams of Maxxis Tire in Suwanee, Ga., urges Speed Shops not to forget about the Light Truck market.

“Light Truck used to be all about the off-road and big tires-¦today it’s still about big tires, but they are street tires,” Williams said.

The never-ending rim size battle is keeping big manufacturers such as Maxxis on their toes, with sizes jumping up from 22 to 24 and 26 inches in just the past few years.

“It’s hard-¦and expensive-¦to stay on top of it,” Williams said. “The cost it takes to design and manufacture a tire for what may be a very small niche is really a big risk.”

Driving this changing Light Truck market are the proverbial “soccer moms” who dumped their mini vans for the SUV market as soon as the big trucks became more road friendly, Williams believes. The next big sector of the Light Truck market may come from the crossover vehicles that are gaining market share with rising gas costs. Maxxis is keeping an eye on that market by designing a new line of Marauder tires, some of which carry the high-speed V rating.

“I’m not sure why someone would want to corner at 50 miles per hour in an SUV, but the tire we design today can do that,” Williams said. “We are rolling over our automotive designs into the Light Truck market due to demand.

Tire Demand

All of this information is intended to improve your tire sales as demand grows and changes. And when it comes to demand, Williams has one big theme for smaller, independent speed shops.

“Let people know you are in the tire business,” Williams said. “The key is on the floor and POP displays, both of which we can help with. Having a bunch of tires sitting in a warehouse isn’t going to do you a lot of good when a new customer comes through your shop.”