Can UK tyre market survive with more than 700 brands?

Apollo, Bandag, Boto, Kenya, Next Tread, Pinso Rovelo, Saetta, Triangle… To be honest, nobody truly knows the precise number of tyre brands sold in the UK but reckon on 700+, according to industry experts, leading to a bewildering choice for motorists and retailers alike. This situation will only worsen as more budget (or rather economy as they now like to be called) brands enter the market, eager to accommodate cash-strapped motorists with their typical five or six year old second-hand cars.

According to leading trade title Tyres and Accessories, which was launched just after WW2, economy brands accounted for 52 per cent of UK tyre sales pre lockdown and while there’s no accurate update, this percentage is reckoned to be undoubtedly higher. It’s a massive as well as lucrative market; the International Tyres Manufacturers’ Association quotes some 41 million car and commercial tyres were replaced last year (excluding the five million part worn alternatives) and the figure would have been considerably higher if it weren’t for the fact that, according to the ITMA, up to 40 per cent of all discarded tyres were in an illegal state by then.

As reported in CAT, Halfords, one of the biggest UK tyre retailers, is so concerned about this apathy that it has decided to defer ‘virtually’ all replacement tyre costs until 2024 to help cash-strapped drivers stay safe. The moves comes as data, compiled by Halfords, reveals that the number of vehicles with tyres below or on the borderline of the minimal legal tread depth leapt by a staggering 71 per cent compared to last year.

Along with Spain the UK tyre market has always been price driven but costs apart, another reason for the surge in economy brands is improving performance and quality standards and one of finest examples lies in a brand with the silliest name ever – Triangle. Some ten years ago this Chinese maker was used as a whipping boy by a major European rival when demonstrating its new premium tyre against a typical economy alternative. A decade on, and having recently launched its own high performance Sportex range, Triangle is now being hotly tipped as one of the industry’s future leading brands.

Japanese Falken turns 40 this year and from its budget origins is now positioned as a mid-range brand, often embarrassing more expensive rivals in the respected independent tyre tests in Germany and the UK claims Andreas Giese, Chief Corporate Officer at Falken Tyres Europe GmbH. As a result the brand has subsequently gained OE approval by several car makers, including Mercedes-Benz.

In the UK, Chris Staincliffe, Senior Trade Marketing Manager at Micheldever Tyre Services – Falken’s main UK distributor – suggests retailers should always try to upsell to a known mid-range alternative as well as stocking names which are a second-tier brand affiliated to a major popular manufacturer.

A prime example are Michelin which also markets Polish made Kormanan and Tigar, the latter originating from Siberia as well as better known makes such as Uniroyal.

Sarah Welsh, of leading wholesaler RH Clayton sees the continual growth of these premium tyre markets becoming the norm. The Suffolk-based company supplies Halfords Autocentre and says motorists can have confidence in their all round performance level which has improved considerably over the past two decades.

Admittedly, compared to the best household names, ultimate wet weather performance may be wanting but for the majority of motorists, who don’t continually drive as though they want to impress Red Bull’s Helmut Marko, they are more than satisfactory.

As one tyre distributor (Tyre-warehouse.co.uk) puts on its website, “budget manufacturers can be just as good as a premium tyre that came out a few years ago”. And while road noise may be higher and wear rates slightly greater it’s a price worth paying and without doubt the safer option when compared to buying part worn tyres as an alternative.

However Bridgestone’s Technical Manager Gary Powell believes motorists are steering away from price conversations alone. “Motorists are far more informed about tyre performance than they used to be and price isn’t the main selling point that it used to be. When we talk about budget tyres representing a false economy, we have so much more to elaborate on than ever before”. That said it’s as well to remember Bridgestone has Firestone with its long serving mid range subsidiary Dayton brands in its armoury.

Contrary to popular opinion tyres are far more than just big black round things and only clued up retailers can reverse this attitude point rammed home by Kumho Tyre UK’s Marketing Director John Thrupp. He told CAT: “Retailers have an increasingly vital role in ensuring buyers are offered exactly the right type of tyre for their needs, And while the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ generally holds true, there remains a huge gulf in quality between the best and the worst performing products on the market – with the biggest brand names.

Alan Anderson

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