Designing Tires to a Specific Model Has Consequences for Commercial Fleets
Not long ago, 17-inch-diameter wheels were limited to high-end sports cars, while 20-inchers were strictly for tuners. Now, some minivans and pickups come standard on 17-inch tires.
This is a trend that consumers are dictating to the OEMs. In
response to this retail demand, the OEMs are designing tires for the performance of the vehicle, which makes them very specific to the vehicle. The trend has been for auto designers to work directly with tire manufacturers in developing tires specific to particular model vehicles. One consequence is the proliferation in the number of tire sizes available since only one tire in the tire manufacturer’s product line meets this vehicle-specific performance and handling specification.
Tires designed for specific vehicles impact commercial fleets and their drivers. For instance, the 2004 and 2005 Ford F-150 was equipped with a tire manufactured by Hankook Tire. “Fleets had to use a Ford dealership for tire replacements, which limited availability since dealerships weren’t always conveniently located to drivers,” said Mark Lange, lead customer service advisor for GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services. “Even though the Hankook replacement tire was available through the dealership, it sometimes took 24-72 hours to have tires shipped from an independent tire dealer to the dealership to have them installed on fleet vehicles,” added Lange.
“The trend to vehicle-specific tires started a number of years ago. Manufacturers have designed vehicles to come with a specific tire size and style that they have sourced with one tire manufacturer. This limits the aftermarket availability of replacement tires because it may be a unique size and style,” said Lars Engman, manager of maintenance operations for GE Commercial Finance Fleet Services
Another example is the DaimlerChrysler RWD 300 and Magnum models. “There is still the perception that you need snow tires on a rear-wheel-drive vehicle even though it is equipped with traction and stability control,” says Lange. The problem is that the availability of snow tires for these vehicles was very limited. Snow tires were not available in 2004 on the 300 and Magnum models unless equipped with an 18-inch wheel package. “The models were equipped with a Continental tire, and Continental did not manufacture a similar tire in as a snow tire, nor did any other manufacturer. Although DaimlerChrysler has a training video demonstrating that snow tires are not required on these models, many drivers still believed they were necessary,” added Lange. Fleet managers realize that advances in rear-wheel-drive technology do not require the use of snow tires; but many may allow them as a safety precaution if a driver insists on them. “Even though a fleet policy may state that snow tires are not allowed unless the vehicle is located in a Snow Belt state, fleet managers may make an exception and err on the side of caution to avoid potential liability exposure,” said Engman.
A Design Trend Will Impact Fleets Monetarily
Replacement tires are a fleet’s third-largest expense. More and more manufacturers are designing tires specific to their vehicles. Manufacturers want their vehicles to perform in specific ways, and they spec the tire to be engineered to meet these requirements. As a result, the tire company develops a tire just for that model. The increased proliferation of tire sizes can result in temporary shortages for replacement tires immediately following new-model introduction. Also, the multitude of tire sizes makes it difficult for tire dealers to maintain sufficient quantities in inventory. Another concern is increased liability exposure. Since tires are optimized for a specific vehicle — from size and speed rating to inflation pressure and, in some cases, position — vehicle manufacturers believe OE fitments provide the best engineered ride and handling characteristics of a vehicle. The use of a substitute replacement tire, if a tire-related accident should occur, may be grounds for litigation.
In the long run, vehicle-specific tires will most likely contribute to higher prices. When tire sizes are designed to a specific vehicle and are not available on other vehicles, common sense says that there will be fewer built. The fewer built, the more expensive the tires.
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