Several tire makers have been introducing so-called "all-weather" tires that not only offer the features of an all-season tire, but also carry the 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake (3PMSF) rating for snow traction.
But do consumers realize the difference between an all-season and all-weather tire?
"There's not only confusion with the consumers, but sometimes I feel there's a little bit of confusion within the tire industry itself," Robert Nasca, product training manager for Hankook Tire America Corp., said.
"Consumers are just reading the words, reading the marketing material we have out there and, unfortunately, I don't think the tire industry as a whole has done a good job about advertising with the product launches or even giving education to the consumers and to the tire retailers, as well. There definitely is some confusion out there," he said.
The latest technology in tire design has enabled engineers to improve snow and slush traction in an all-season tire so as to earn the industry's 3PMSF designation—where testing designates the passenger or light truck tire has a traction index equal to, or greater than, 110 (compared with a reference tire that is rated 100) on packed snow.
"The M+S marking on the (all-season) sidewall leads customers to believe they are both the same," Conrad Galamgam, vice president of product planning and technical services at Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., said.
"Over the past few years, leading consumer magazines have featured and promoted tires that are all-weather, and of course tire manufacturers are advertising their products as being all-weather, having the additional 3PMSF symbol. But despite all that, consumers still may not understand the benefits of an all-weather vs. all-season if additional winter traction is needed.
"That's why it is so important that tire dealers have the proper training to highlight the features of a tire that promote it as an all-weather 3PMS performance over a standard M+S rating. Toyo offers online training courses to our authorized dealers that highlights the features and benefits for its all-weather 3PMS products like the Celsius and Open Country AT3," he said.
"If I'm super frank about it, I think there is confusion within the industry about it ...," Will Robbins, senior product manager, consumer replacement product strategy at Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO), said.
"But I think we have struggled a little bit to talk about, 'Is it a new category of tire? Is it an expansion of an existing category of tire?'
"And I think especially when it comes to talking with dealers and talking with consumers, it can get extremely confusing," he continued, "and that's why messaging and education is so important from our part to make sure we're talking about these tires in a way people can understand," he said.
To add to the confusion, Goodyear claims it has been using the term "all weather" tires for a century and prefers to call an all-season tire with 3PMSF, an "enhanced all-season" tire.
"Sometimes we put our blinders on within the industry and just talk about these small differences between tires. But the end-consumer absolutely sees no difference between all-season and the term 'all-weather.' And they are used interchangeably," said Mike Pulte, Goodyear's general manager of product, marketing and innovation.
"Trying to create a category doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about the consumer. They don't see it that way. Having a tire with better all-season capability—we call it 'enhanced all-season capability'—makes a lot of sense for a lot of consumers."
Pulte pointed out that all-terrain tires have been introduced with 3PMSF markings, as well.
"It would add a lot of confusion in the marketplace to try to say (all-weather) is a whole new category of tires. That part just doesn't make sense because it's already kind of ingrained in the different subcategories—commuter touring tire, regular broad-market tires, all-terrain tires.
"So what dealers tend to do is they use that extra marking as another benefit. It's a feature on the tire but it's a benefit for the end-consumer of having that extra traction in poor weather."
Meanwhile, Vernon, British Columbia-based Kal Tire, through its website, prefers to call the traditional all-season tires "3-season tires," as opposed to all-weather tires designed for driving in all four seasons.
"Part of the difficulty of talking about all-weather is that if a product has a three-peak mark, then technically it's really severe-snow-rated. … Winter tires are 3-Peak Mountain Snowflake marked, but they're not necessarily designed for year-round use. So it's the marking plus that intention from the company on how the product was designed to be used, in what we call traditional all-season conditions, that really make a product an all-weather product," BATO's Robbins said.
In the last few years, several tire makers have been introducing their versions of an all-weather tire with the 3PMSF designation to the North American market.
Hankook introduced its Kinergy 4S2 all-weather to the U.S. market last fall, after offering it in the European and Canadian markets since 2018.
"The level of technology this tire offers to consumers, it's just something new that we see the market moving toward. Consumers are always wanting something new, and we think this is an excellent category, an excellent segment for Hankook to go into," Hankook's Nasca said.