PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y.—Demand for larger rim-diameter passenger/light truck tires has grown throughout the past three years to the point where 17-inch and larger tires now account for nearly half of all consumer tires sold in the U.S., according to NDP Group Inc. research.
"We're seeing a greater number of bigger vehicles on the road today and in manufacturers' new lineups," said Nathan Shipley, automotive industry analyst at NPD.
"Sedan sales have slowed dramatically over the last few years, as SUVs/CUVs are growing in popularity. Larger rim diameter tires are performing well as a result of this shift."
Based on data from NPD's Retail Tire Tracking Service, sales of replacement passenger and light truck tires were up 4 percent over the 12 month period ended Aug. 3, NPD said.
Overall, replacement tire sales have grown 4.5 percent over that same period, although the value of sales has grown more slowly, up 3 percent, NPD said.
"The fundamentals of the automotive industry couldn't be stronger," Shipley said. "Miles driven annually is currently at its highest level; more drivers and vehicles are on the road than ever before; and the unemployment rate has been trending at historical lows, meaning consumers are driving to work. All of these things point to a very healthy automotive industry, which includes the tires business."
NPD Group's data coincides with the latest industry forecast from the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association for replacement car tire shipments, which is predicting an increase of nearly 6 percent this year to a record 223.9 million units.
The trade group—which represents a dozen tire makers with manufacturing capacity in the U.S.—provided no explanation for its changed forecast, which represents a swing of 6.4 million tires from earlier projections.
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports total miles driven by U.S. vehicle owners is steadily rising, hitting an annualized rate of 3.24 trillion miles in May.
The 2019 USTMA forecast is on top of a 2.5 percent increase in aftermarket passenger tire shipments in 2018, to 214.9 million units.
According to the USTMA, six of the 10 best-selling aftermarket passenger tires were 17-inch sizes, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all aftermarket shipments. On the OE side, the top 10 sizes shipped to vehicle makers in 2018 were all 17 inches or larger in rim diameter.