It’s been said before and it will be said again – it’s never “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to discussing any aspect of commercial truck fleets.
Vocational truck fleets include mixed vehicles, from light-duty to heavy-duty and everything in between. They may have a mix of regional and long-haul routes. These differences lead to a few truck tire trends that differ by vocation.
Right now, e-commerce is a huge trend that is changing the way trucks are used today.
“Since trucks are used differently, the tires are used differently. We have some great developments in testing that will address the new market dynamics and help customers maximize their return on investment for tire purchases,” said Mike Graber, director of commercial tire sales for Toyo Tire USA.
Tiremakers must think further ahead when it comes to meet truck fleet needs.
“Of significance now is ensuring that truck tires of the future meet the needs of changing fleets that will include electric and autonomous trucks, and possibly have drone delivery capabilities. Conventional fleets will continue to demand value with a combination of low cost per mile, retreadability, and fuel efficiency,” said Ken Everhart, regional director, TBR Sales for Hankook Tire.
A Changing Landscape
One issue impacting tire trends in the vocational truck market is the ongoing driver shortage.
“The mix of the ‘vehicle park’ in North America is trending to smaller vehicles and shorter delivery routes due to increasing congestion in major urban areas, government regulations on noise, and a shortage of drivers in long haul,” said Schwartz of Michelin. “This has also increased the demand for medium-duty trucks for larger packages. In turn, medium-duty commercial battery-electric vehicles offer an option to diesel/gasoline power for specific applications and duty cycles, such as daily set routes of less than 100 miles that return to urban base. This application may need a different tire due to different torque requirements of electric vehicles. Refuse fleets with minimal daily mileage and many frequent stops/starts are increasingly utilizing electric-powered Class 7-8 trucks.”
Another trend impacting vocational truck fleets today, especially on the medium-duty side, is last-mile deliveries.
“A growing trend in last-mile deliveries has been shifted toward Class 5 and Class 6 vehicles. There are fewer driver requirements, therefore a more available qualified employment pool. These vehicles are more fuel efficient and less costly to purchase and maintain. This specific trend is easily reflected in the constant, and steady growth in the OE manufacturing reports. We see have seen growth in 19.5-inch wheel diameters during the last several years and anticipate it to remain strong even if, and when, Class 8 diameters level off or subside,” said Funkhouser of Yokohama Tire.
In addition, if it catches on, load sharing for the delivery market could make owner/operators more important in this segment.
“Owner/operators have been typically ignored by the major tire manufacturers, which prefer to focus on the large fleet market. Refuse and construction tires are becoming hybrids requiring greater carrying capacity and higher speed ratings along with some cut/chip tread compounds. Construction tires, including OTR tires for loaders and haul trucks, are trending to lower profile tires with larger rim diameters to increase carrying capacity and improve handling and fuel economy initially at the OE level. The replacement tire market will follow as tire manufacturers tool up for these new sizes and the demand spills over from OE,” said Weller of Double Coin Tires.
With the rise of door-to-door, local and regional delivery services, there is greater demand for commercial vehicles that can deliver to the last mile.
“These regional delivery fleets face high-scrub, start-stop environments as they navigate city streets. Refuse fleets face similar challenges, with frequent stops along commercial and residential areas. Fleets in both segments are demanding tires designed specifically for their operating environment. Durability and retreadability are top considerations, so we are seeing new products coming to market that satisfy these needs,” said Eric Higgs, president, truck, bus, and retread tires for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.
The Bottom Line
In the end, some things are universal: tire fuel efficiency and long wear balance will always be important, regardless of vocation.
“Tire operating costs for fleets are toward the top of the fleet operating cost chart, and thus tire manufacturers need to continue to solve for the fleets. Beyond fuel efficiency and long wear, ‘smart’ truck tires, or tires that can communicate real-time with the driver/vehicle, will be increasing in importance when/if autonomous vehicles get closer to mainstream usage,” said Schroeder of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.
Vocational fleets – like all fleets – are ultimately looking for tires that help them lower their operating costs.
“Regardless of vocation, application, and wheel position, we believe it is important to achieve the right balance between tire performance benefits that will enable fleets to lower their operating costs, such as increased miles to removal; cut, chip and tear resistance for on- and off-road service; excellent traction; and lower rolling resistance - the last of which is being driven by increasingly stringent fuel economy standards. In the past, when one or two performance benefits were optimized, other benefits sometimes took a back seat. This dynamic is much less prevalent these days,” said Mahesh Kavaturu, marketing manager for Goodyear.
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