The commercial truck tire industry is experiencing rapid change and evolution.
Explore the dynamic trends shaping the truck tire industry, from electric vehicles and last-mile delivery to changing regulations and ongoing supply chain challenges.
Top Trends Impacting Light-Duty Commercial Truck Tires
The light-duty truck segment is rapidly growing right now due to growth in eCommerce and the last-mile delivery spaces.
Today’s tires are being pushed to do more than ever in changing environments. We are seeing a rise in the age of vehicles in service, and extra care and service are crucial in keeping them running.
“The light-duty truck segment is evolving rapidly, driven by continued growth in the eCommerce and last-mile delivery spaces. The vehicles in service — and their tires — are being called on to do more than ever in various changing environments,” said Dave Beasley, vice president, North America Commercial, Goodyear North America.
There continues to be a mix of demand across various light-duty commercial truck tires.
“Newer categories, such as CUV/SUV, all-weather, and cargo, are growing. We are also seeing a shift to more aggressive all-terrain and rugged terrain tires, with an additional focus on the tire's design. Customers want them to look rugged and be durable and high-performing. At the same time, we continue to see growth in highway terrain with the increased sales in SUV/CUV, indicating that the market for light-truck tires is continuously varied,” said KJ Kim, TB marketing & sales director of Hankook Tire America.
And, with smaller class vehicles becoming more popular, “it is increasingly important these vehicles are fit with products designed to handle the commercial demands imposed on them. [Newer] products from Yokohama are designed to handle the urban abuses that this segment now must endure, including curbing, urban twisting and turning, increased starting and stopping for deliveries, and added durability to include retreadability,” said Tom Clauer, senior manager of commercial product planning for Yokohama Tire.
Technologically advanced tires and tire maintenance tools are helping unlock efficiency regardless of industry or application.
“We’ve also seen that the age of vehicles in service is rising, and those vehicles will need extra care and service over their life to keep them running and providing value,” Beasley added.
Tire pressure monitoring systems are still crucial in the driver’s tire maintenance toolbox.
“Many light-duty trucks come equipped with TPMS, and if not, systems are available for retrofitting, as well as telematics solutions for fleet managers,” said Jake Martin, Pressure Systems International (PSI) marketing support specialist.
Beasley of Goodyear also noted increased crossover between the commercial and consumer space in the light-duty market.
“Technology in one segment is making its way into the other to meet our customers’ needs,” Beasley said.
He noted that some light-duty trucks are now fitted with commercial tires, underscoring that getting the job done is the priority.
Another trend in the light-duty truck space is the increased adoption of electric vehicles.
“More EVs are coming into the market every week because of the short, regional routes and local yards perfectly suited for EVs that need to charge at the end of their route. Goodyear has the right tires and solutions to meet the needs of the EVs and ICE light-duty trucks,” Beasley added.
And you can’t understate the impact of the growth of the last-mile delivery market.
“Last-mile delivery vehicles are adding additional volumes to this segment as they grow their business,” said Nick Grandy, GM, Vocational – Industrial Services at Zonar Systems.
And the impact of this growing vocational segment goes beyond vehicle volume.
“With the growth of last-mile delivery trucks, we have seen increased demand in 19.5 size tires for straight trucks that reduce scrubbing and enable retreadability,” said Timothy Netzel, Director, TBR Brand Marketing, Bridgestone Americas.
Clauer of Yokohama Tire agreed. “Local, pickup and delivery, and regional products continue to be a growing segment. All position/all-season 19.5” diameter tires are becoming popular due to their versatility and maintenance-friendly attributes,” he said.
And, in today’s commercial light truck world, last-mile delivery is moving into every level of commerce.
“Fleets are working hard to understand how to manage this new segment that is constantly evolving. As electric vehicles start integrating into this segment quicker than the heavier commercial vehicles, fleets are working to understand the adjustments needed in their operations and sites,” said Jim Garrett, product category manager for Michelin North America, Inc.
Top Trends Impacting Medium-Duty Commercial Truck Tires
The medium-duty truck market is experiencing similar trends as the light-duty truck world.
“More fleets are utilizing shorter hauls between warehouses to get products and services to consumers faster. In addition, the professional tradesman segment continues to grow and size up in vehicles from light-duty pickup trucks to larger, heavier pickups and into the medium-duty segment. This could lead to continued growth for several years as fleets work to upgrade their vehicles,” said Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc.
Aaron Murphy, sr. vice president of Double Coin agreed that trends are similar to the light-duty commercial truck tire segment regarding the just-in-time model, with more eCommerce sales driving usage in this segment.
“In addition, vehicle sales in this segment have been strong over the past few years, so the tire replacement market should continue to be robust in this category,” Murphy added.
The medium-duty truck market is changing quickly. It lies between a rapidly expanding last-mile delivery/light-duty market and a dynamic, evolving long-haul market.
“Medium duty often serves as the hand-off between long-haul and last mile. This traditional model is shifting as some owner/operators spread distribution points out so that long-haul transitions directly to last-mile delivery and reduces needs in the medium-duty space,” said Beasley of Goodyear. “We are seeing growth in the medium-duty space in the mixed service segment where vocational applications drive the need for more robust vehicles, tires, and solutions.”
Technology hasn’t advanced as quickly to the medium-duty tire segment.
“Most medium-duty trucks do not have any tire management system included and could benefit by retrofitting TPMS and telematics solutions for fleet managers,” said Martin of PSI.
But, these fleets still demand a tire that offers both value in terms of up-front cost and a combination of durability and performance.
“Many fleets want a tire that offers a higher speed rating with a casing that can be retread at least once. To meet this demand, Hankook offers medium-duty products with a two retread/six-year warranty and higher speed ratings than many fleets are asking for,” said Kim of Hankook Tire America.
Top Trends Impacting Heavy-Duty Truck Tires
Looking at the larger, heavy-duty, over-the-road trucks, a few shifts are starting. For one, the heavy-duty truck industry is seeing some growth in consolidation.
“The consolidation of larger fleets has become an emerging trend in the heavy-duty truck segment, and with that comes an emphasis on consistent data management. That places added demand on tire monitoring technology like Bridgestone Fleet Care as fleets look to increase operational efficiencies,” said Netzel of Bridgestone Americas.
Like medium-duty fleets, value, durability, and performance are highly important to the heavy-duty market.
“But, with rising fuel prices, rolling resistance is also top-of-mind for many fleets. Furthermore, the ability to retread a quality casing numerous times lowers the fleet’s operating cost, with the added benefit of being good for our environment,” said Kim of Hankook Tire America.
Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc. also noted that more fleets are moving toward a “total cost of ownership” approach, incorporating other costs like breakdowns and fuel with the tires.
“The industry is moving toward lower rolling resistance tires due to government regulations, becoming more environmentally responsible and improved cost control methods. In the past, maintenance departments controlled tire costs and looked strictly at the ‘cost per mile’ of the tire (tire cost/how many miles it lasts.) Another department typically managed the cost of fuel,” Garrett added. “As fuel costs are likely to keep increasing, even a small reduction in tire rolling resistance can save the fleet money. This fuel savings can more than pay for any trade-off in accumulated wear miles.”
And diesel prices are rising, with the EIA recently updating its forecast for the remainder of 2023 with higher-than-anticipated prices.
“With fuel prices on the rise again, saving fuel costs has become a major concern. Proper inflation of tires not only can save a fleet on fuel costs but also can extend the life of the tire. As tire prices continue to rise, maintaining even wear and extending tire life becomes a premium. A properly inflated tire not only lasts longer but also allows a fleet to be able to retread tires if necessary. ATIS can not only help with these two issues but also can help prevent costly blowouts that take up time and money of fleets,” said Martin of PSI.
You can’t ignore the impact of technological growth in this segment.
“Technological advances are making tires more purpose-built with features and benefits designed to maximize performance in different environments. Long gone are the days of one-tire with many applications. Businesses now have an up-front focus on tire capabilities and design with a back-end emphasis on service and support to make it possible to optimize their tire investment,” said Beasley of Goodyear.
Clauer of Yokohama Tire noted that emerging equipment technologies, such as CEV/HCEV, challenge tire manufacturers to make new designs and performance advancements.
“This trend will continue to move into longer haul applications as the infrastructure to support it grows,” Clauer noted.
Goodyear is also seeing some sharing of technology and end-use benefits from insights and applications in consumer tires coming to the commercial tire space.
“We’ve also observed the growth of the Super-regional space driven by supply chains getting goods closer to customers and end users,” Beasley added.
Regarding tire size trends, Goodyear has seen that the need to carry greater loads has increased as the long-haul market grows.
“There has been a shift in customer requests moving from G-rated to higher capacity H-rated tires. The growth in eCommerce and last-mile delivery means more goods to move and more stress on the tires. Moving from a 14-ply G-rated tire to a 16-ply H-rated tire in the steer position means greater control and traction for those larger loads,” said Dustin Lancy, senior commercial product manager at Goodyear North America.
Michelin noted additional tire spec’ing trend changes in the heavy-duty market.
“Line-haul and regional trucks are moving away from 11R tires and moving to Low-Pro (LP) sizes, sizing from 24.5” wheels to 22.5”. This transition has been in process for several years and is nearly complete. The biggest advantage to this is standardization, offering more availability of tires and wheels, as well as a common loading height,” said Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc.
On the safety side, Grandy of Zonar noted that, according to FMCSA, tire roadside violations have lived in the top 20 list for the last five years, with the previous year at number nine.
“Reports that look closely at the average yearly costs to operate heavy-duty trucks tell a useful story about often overlooked metrics, including tire pressure. These metrics can’t be ignored. They can have a huge, compounding effect on supply chain costs that will ultimately be passed on to consumers like you and me,” Grady added.
In addition, fleets are looking for more features fleetwide and year-round that they may have only needed during specific seasons or in certain regions.
“We’ve also noticed that more customers are placing orders for tires with features like Three Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) all year round. Traction is an all-the-time concern for many fleets, so they’re requesting tires with once regional or seasonal features,” said Lancy of Goodyear North America.
But, according to Murphy, as the supply chain woes of 2021 and 2022 have subsided, Double Coin is seeing a slowdown in demand for this product category.
“Specific segments, like construction and OE, are resilient to this trend. Overall freight tonnage is lower than previous years, realizing a reduction in tire usage,” Murphy explained.
Overall Trends Impacting Commercial Tires for Work Truck Fleets
In this era of technological advancements and data-driven solutions, the fleet industry stands on the brink of a new era, one smart management converges to create a safer, more efficient, and cost-effective future.
As we progress, the path to success is clear: embrace change, harness data, and drive innovation to shape the fleets of tomorrow.
Last-Mile Delivery Trends
When covering last-mile delivery trends, one word can sum everything up: Growth. Every single tire expert interviewed noted the growth witnessed in this segment today.
As Clauer from Yokohama Tire aptly said, "The last-mile delivery segment has been one of the fastest-growing segments in the past several years."
This growth trajectory received a turbocharge from the pandemic, which ushered in a surge in home deliveries and prompted fleet and distribution center reconfigurations to meet the escalating demand.
But with growth comes new challenges.
“There has been an increasing demand for all steel segments in light-duty trucks, requiring manufacturers to increase supply. As a result, some customers are seeing longer wait times for orders,” said Grandy of Zonar Systems.
Zooming in on the last-mile delivery landscape, it's clear that smaller fleets are the lifeblood of this sector.
“Last-mile delivery continues to represent a growing segment of the industry, aided by the importance of home delivery during the pandemic. Smaller fleets are estimated to make up about 75% of the market, and many smaller vehicles require heavier load capacities. These fleets are also placing enhanced importance on servicing partners with robust tire and service programs and advanced data and tire monitoring software,” said Netzel of Bridgestone Americas.
Across all segments, one word remains paramount: durability. Fleet managers are looking for tires that can withstand the rigors of tough applications.
“Many of the same trends apply here across the various segments, especially a demand for durability in a very tough application. Of growing importance will be the push towards EVs for last-mile delivery. These tires must meet the demands of a heavier vehicle with instant torque,” said Kim of Hankook Tire America.
In the backdrop of our on-demand society, fleets are rewriting the rulebook, forging shorter routes while handling higher volumes of deliveries.
“These have amplified the need for a robust, scrub-resistant tire with traction capabilities to maneuver in inclement weather to ensure timely delivery. These conditions are also favorable to retreading to ensure the fleet gets the most from their tire lifecycle to maximize return on investment,” said Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc.
Murphy of Double Coin predicts that "just-in-time deliveries will continue to be a strong factor in the future," underscoring the enduring importance of timely, efficient delivery services.
Last-mile delivery is increasingly becoming synonymous with electric vehicles. The short routes and return-to-base model at the end of each day make EVs ideal candidates for this segment.
“Regardless of the drivetrain, however, the tires are technology-driven with features and benefits designed to increase efficiency,” said Beasley of Goodyear North America.
As we venture further into the 21st century, the implementation of EVs is gaining momentum, fundamentally reshaping how we think about work trucks and vans. This industry shift is not limited to a single category but encompasses regional, urban, and vocational work truck markets. Vehicles powered by electricity introduce a new set of challenges and opportunities for tire manufacturers.
“The added weight and increased torque on the tires mean tires are under different types of stress and require new technology to ensure fleets move efficiently. Overall, we believe tires can impact energy efficiency regardless of powertrain,” said Beasley of Goodyear North America.
Clauer of Yokohama Tire identified three major concerns in tire development for electric vehicles.
“First is the rolling resistance coefficient (RRC): the more efficient the tire’s RRC is, the more miles per charge these vehicles can get. This logic also applies to ICE equipment, and tire manufacturers have focused on this feature for years,” Clauer explained.
Secondly, tire capacity becomes vital as electric-driven trucks rely on battery packs that can significantly increase weight.
“The DOT has increased the max load for Class 8 units to 82,000 lbs. (from 80,000 lbs.) to address this potential added weight,” Clauer noted.
He added that, in many cases, traditional tire sizes (e.g., 295/75R22.5) cannot supply the weight-carrying capacity required specifically in steer axle positions.
“To address this, tire sizes with larger chambers may be used along with higher load range/ply ratings. Ultra-wide-base drive products can help reduce the impact on weight, up to 700 lbs. (+/- depending on current products used), per position while providing low rolling resistance and increasing range, " in EV- or ICE-driven equipment,” Clauer added.
Thirdly, torque handling is a specific challenge in the drive position.
“Electric drives have considerably higher torque available ‘on demand’ vs. ICE drives. High torque creates several issues for tires, like rapid and irregular wear (heel and toe wear patterns). This requires that designs and compounds be rethought to handle this issue,” Clauer added. “Part of the challenge is that by combating one, high torque can have an adverse effect on another like rolling resistance, traction (less aggressive lug, more rib type designs) and runout mileage.”
Grandy of Zonar Systems highlights another dimension of the evolving landscape: the impact of additional vehicle weight from batteries on ply ratings and size demands.
“The additional vehicle weight from batteries may impact ply ratings and size demands. Additionally, lower tread depth requirements for better rolling resistance are being requested. Lower tread depth also helps distribute and reduce the effects of higher torque electric motors,” Grandy said.
The OE sector is not immune to these recent changes.
“The OE sector continues to grow in the EV space, with several new OE manufacturers breaking into Class 7/8 electric trucks. As this technology continues to evolve and be refined, this will impact the commercial sector of the industry in several segments,” said Netzel of Bridgestone Americas.
However, the transition to electric vehicles brings challenges beyond tire technology.
“EVs must maximize their battery life to ensure they get the most out of every truck. A large part of this for trucks and trailers will be tire pressure. Under-inflated tires could shorten the total milage an EV could reach, reducing profits and increasing truck downtime. Properly inflated tires will maximize the EVs' mileage and keep trucks on the road longer, helping maximize a fleet’s profit,” said Martin of PSI.
Kim of Hankook Tire America noted the absence of a specific industry benchmark or required certification for EV tires.
“The EV market is growing steadily, and tire manufacturers have been re-inventing their product lines to the specifications of electric vehicles. So far, no specific industry benchmark for EV tires or required certification is needed to distinguish an EV tire from a truck EV Tire. However, we know that the key specifications needed of these tires are better weight carrying capacity and slower wear,” Kim added.
The soaring demand for electric vehicles holds the power to reshape the fleet transportation industry. As the Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2030, 50% of vehicles sold worldwide will be electric or hybrid, the intrinsic performance of tires is under scrutiny.
“Electric vehicles put the intrinsic performance of tires to the test, making tire quality even more critical. With the instantaneous torque of electric motors and the weight of the battery, tires wear out faster on EVs than on internal combustion vehicles. EVs of any size are quieter – the tires, rather than the engine, are the main noise source. Given the challenge of battery range, rolling resistance and the tire's aerodynamic performance is even more critical for vehicle efficiency,” said Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc.
While electric vehicles continue to make their mark, Murphy of Double Coin predicts a more pronounced utilization of EVs in the just-in-time or local truck segment.
“The over-the-road segment or long-haul EV market is still having some headwinds, and the increased usage in that segment by EV will be tempered some,” Murphy said.
Supply Chain Shortages
The past few years have been marked by significant challenges, particularly in supply chain disruptions.
“Global supply chain disruptions over the past several years impacted our business like many others. Over the past six to 12 months, we’ve worked diligently to improve our ability to make and supply our customers with the right products at the right time. Where challenges and delays remain, our entire team is focused on improvement and being the best partner and supplier in the business,” said Dana Rebucci, director, commercial supply chain at Goodyear North America.
Netzel of Bridgestone Americas digs into the historical context of the tire supply chain challenges.
“Overall industry tire supply was slow to rebound post-COVID and well into the second half of 2022, while industry demand was historically high and led to imbalances in timing, which impacted all tire manufacturers and fleet customers. We are beginning to see supply chain issues right-size to normal, pre-COVID patterns,” he explained.
Clauer of Yokohama Tire agreed that positive changes are afoot.
“Supply issues have eased considerably for all types of suppliers. 2022 provided us a ‘catch up’ in inventories, and while there are still some hot spots, for the most part, inventories are back to normal and, in some cases, inventories are elevated above,” he shared.
Grandy of Zonar Systems highlighted the broader labor force’s role in stabilizing inventories.
“Generally, inventories are improving as the labor force continues to recover from the pandemic. While original equipment (OE) demands have remained robust, production has been catching up,” he said.
Geopolitical factors continue to influence the industry's dynamics.
“While we have largely moved past the initial impact of pandemic-related factory closures, other geopolitical issues, including the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the automotive industry is still facing some difficulty and slowdowns in the broader supply chain. However, those gaps are constantly filled by those who can boost their productions and exports in other regions,” said Kim of Hankook Tire America.
Garrett of Michelin underscored a notable trend in response to the supply chain complexities, stating, “As the industry experienced difficulties with supply chains following Covid-19, many tire manufacturers have simplified their portfolios.”
This shift has translated to some tire sizes and/or load ranges being more difficult to find.
“The trend toward more standard tire/wheel sizes has made this an easier transition for tire manufacturers. This change, along with improved supply chain robustness and less overall demand, has greatly reduced the tire shortages experienced within the industry a year ago,” Garrett added.
Murphy of Double Coin offered reassuring insight, stating, "At this time, no supply chain delays are impacting the market." Moreover, he points out a promising development on the labor front, emphasizing that most union labor negotiations conclude with profitable agreements for management and labor. This harmonious balance bodes well for the industry's continued stability and growth.
Working with Regulations
Tire manufacturers are gearing up to meet the pending regulatory requirements while aligning their strategies with federal, state, and municipal mandates.
“Goodyear has been working diligently to lower rolling resistance and develop the necessary technology to meet the pending regulatory requirements. We’re also working hard to balance the Federal, State, and Municipal requirements and business goals. It’s an evolving landscape, but we’re monitoring regulations closely and bringing our innovation in tire technology to ensure we’re compliant with guidelines and delivering the best products to meet our customer’s needs,” said Beasley of Goodyear North America.
Looking ahead, Clauer of Yokohama Tire pointed out that regulations are an ever-present concern for tire manufacturers.
“New regulations are always a leading element of product line-up and development. Current concerns are those scheduled for 2024 and 2027. The focus to meet these must be placed several years in advance to make the necessary changes/modifications to products, and in adding new designs and treads to target and meet those requirements specifically,” he noted.
Shifting gears to the impact of tariffs, Kim of Hankook Tire America shed light on the complexities.
“The tariff is designed to promote the buying and selling of U.S.-made products. Yet, the reality is that this puts pressure on the manufacturers that must pay higher import taxation, and part of the costs are being passed on to the customers/end users depending on the manufacturing origin of the tires,” Kim said.
Navigating the intricate web of tire certifications and regulations remains a critical aspect of the industry. Kim also noted several ongoing requirements, such as GHG, CARB, and 6PPD, that manufacturers must meet to operate across the U.S. These regulations form a crucial backdrop for commercial tire producers.
Murphy of Double Coin underscored the watchful eye on regulatory developments.
“The potential of regulations impacting 6PPD, an organic chemical used in tire production, could be implemented in the next few years. In addition, the continuous reduction of rolling resistance to reduce fuel consumption is always being monitored, and regulations could follow to reduce carbon footprints,” Murphy said.
Garrett of Michelin North America, Inc. believes that emissions, fuel economy, and safety regulations will shape the future of North American trucking. Garrett asserted, "Sustainability and profit are both attainable without sacrificing your bottom line."
Proper maintenance for commercial truck tires isn't just about compliance; it's also about achieving tangible benefits for fleets.
“Some fleets have experienced a 60%-plus reduction in CVSA violations when maintaining proper tire pressure,” said Jake Martin, marketing support specialist for Pressure Systems International (PSI).
An Autonomous & Connected Future
In a rapidly evolving industry, the acceptance and integration of autonomous technology has become more widespread.
Beasley of Goodyear North America pointed out, "We're seeing that autonomous technology is being tested and accepted in more parts of the industry. As government regulations change, more technology is being tested and adopted for different industry applications."
This shift towards autonomy in fleets is reshaping how we view transportation and revolutionizing how we handle tire and maintenance needs.
As fleets take on autonomous capabilities, the landscape of tire maintenance is poised for transformation.
"As fleets become more autonomous, the tire and maintenance needs will also change and evolve, providing an opportunity for full tire maintenance solutions," Beasley added.
This shift in maintenance for commercial truck tires is not just about change; it's about seizing the opportunity to gather crucial data from autonomous fleets and tailor products and maintenance solutions to enhance performance, safety, and overall adoption.
The integration of data-driven decision-making into fleet management has already demonstrated its potential. Lancy of Goodyear North America highlighted this phenomenon, saying, "We've seen already that when fleets are connected to vehicles and collecting data – often in real-time – they can make decisions about assets and be proactive with just-in-time service or replacement to maximize investment."