Trends: UHP for the Masses
The Ultra High Performance (UHP) segment is no longer just about ultimate performance.
Once a “specialty” tire, the ultra high performance (UHP) tire is now firmly in the mainstream. According to the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada, its member companies sold approximately 1.5 million of them in 2014 — up considerably from the 400,000 or so they sold in Canada back in 2002.
And in case you’re wondering, it’s not because the Lamborghini Aventador is suddenly selling like hotcakes and gaining on the Honda Civic as Canada’s top selling passenger car… because it’s not!
The obvious driver of growth has been the proliferation of UHP tires as OEM fitments on vehicle types that previously did not wear UHP rubber, such as luxury crossovers and upscale sedans and coupes.
“We in North America have a big SUV and crossover market,” says Orazio Mastracchio of Pirelli’s NAFTA Region Communications and Media Relations Group. “Car manufacturers are building sports/performance editions (of SUVs and CUVs), so we need to adapt and produce tires that cater to the performance aspect of those vehicles.”
Reporting from Goodyear’s head office in Akron, Ohio, Justin Metz, Manager, Consumer Tire Communications, notes that in some instances, drivers may be “unsuspecting UHP customers,” meaning they purchased a vehicle not realizing it came equipped with UHP tires. “If these drivers have enjoyed the ride and handling from their UHP tires, there’s a good chance, they don’t want to sacrifice that performance when choosing a set of replacement tires,” adds Metz.
Technology changes the game
Chances are good that those first-time UHP customers will continue to be UHP customers, because technology has allowed the modern UHP to offer the customer more than just hard-edged performance.
“The UHP tire has really evolved,” notes Mastracchio. “It’s no longer a fast-wearing, hard-sidewall tire. Today’s customers are looking for comfort, longevity and safety. UHP tires today are produced with that in mind.”
Even the “traditional” UHP market that prioritizes performance above all, is evolving toward something that is more livable. When it comes to these specialty tires, Metz notes that Goodyear and others have “increased attention on attributes like rolling resistance and noise. Extended mobility technologies, such as RunOnFlat tires have also become more common.”
Mastracchio says the “traditional” UHP tire, built as a full summer UHP tire for very, high-end performance cars is Pirelli’s strongest segment: “We use what we learn in F1 and apply it to the modern super cars.”
Another aspect of this super car business, adds Mastracchio, “are tires specifically made for a specific car model, like a tailor made suit.”
The Lamborghini Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce, recently revealed at the Geneva Auto Show, is a case in point. Pirelli worked closely with Lamborghini to create the ideal tires for this latest super car. The resultant Pirelli P Zeros are the only tires that can be fitted to the new Lambo.
Winter fitments continue to grow
You know the UHP tire has reached a certain level of mainstream use when there is need for winter and all-season tires in UHP speed ratings – which the industry defines as anything above the H rating.
Pirelli just launched the P Zero All Season plus, which Mastracchio notes embodies all the characteristics customers are looking for in an UHP tire — smooth ride, longevity, safety, and fuel efficiency.
Metz says Goodyear has a strong focus on developing UHP All Season tires: “This long term focus has resulted in the recognition of Goodyear as a leader in the UHP All Season segment.”
According to Ralph Warner of the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), member companies are selling more replacement winter tires in the higher speed ratings, but so far the growth seems to be all contained in the H rating.
Back in 2010, the broad market (Q, R, S & T) ratings accounted for 92 percent of all replacement winter tires, while H-rated tires captured five percent, and V and W rated tires combined for three percent.
Fast forward to 2014, and the broad market has declined to 82 percent, while the H segment rose to 15 percent. The high-end segment remained at three percent.
Greater speed ratings for all!
Warner believes the rise in popularity in UHP tires is consistent with an industry wide movement to higher speed ratings, because customers like them, and because the technology can easily provide them.
“Essentially what you are seeing is broad market tires dropping,” he says. “They are moving into H rated, and those that were previously H rated are moving into the ultra high performance, which is V to Z. The market is shifting over.”
Previously, only drivers that were interested in the “cutting edge” of performance were drawn to H and UHP tires. Now more and more average drivers are going to H and UHP tires, believes Warner, “because they can afford them, because the tires look good, and they figure if the tires are good for such high speeds, then those tires must be even better for the speeds I go.”
Bigger wheel diameters equals more UHPs
This is the era when you can get 18-inch alloy rims and aggressive 225/45R18 tires on something as pedestrian as a Toyota Camry. While there is no denying that 18-inch tires and wheels will improve the car’s handling, their great effect on the Camry is probably visual, especially for prospective customers considering the Toyota’s styling in profile in the showroom.
Lower profile tires fitted to larger alloy wheels will make any car look better. Warner figures the move to lower profile tires, which he describes as, “the number one physical change in tire evolution in the last 10 years,” was driven in part by “appearance” related issues.
And when you need low profile tires to match up with aggressive looking and larger wheels, you are no doubt talking about tires in the higher speed rating categories, such as H and UHP.
The future of UHP
Warner is expecting the segment to increase its share of the market, for all the reasons discussed, and is expecting more players to enter the segment. Newer brands, typically based offshore, usually start in the broad markets, and then work up. They are now working up.
Interestingly, Metz notes that Goodyear feels that the proliferation of UHP tires into the CUV and SUVs segments may be reaching a mature stage: “We believe these applications are fairly well-established and this growth may be leveling off.”