Weeks of snow and ice have fuelled appeals from the UK’s tyre industry for drivers to sign up for winter tyres.
Marketing the benefits of higher traction cold-weather rubber is hoped to appeal to the safety-conscious nature of corporate fleets and private motorists.
The tyre industry has been raising awareness of winter tyres for several years. Yet, until the recent snowfall, few UK motorists realised such products were available.
Even the Government doesn’t seem to know much about them. The Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, told the House of Commons that winter tyres were not appropriate for the UK. His statement inflamed members of TyreSafe, the industry safety campaign, who said he demonstrated a “complete lack of understanding” and pointed out that studless winter tyres do not damage road surfaces and provide improved grip for all wintery conditions.
Better stopping power
Safety is certainly in their favour. Tests conducted by the British Tyre Manufacturers Association found that, when fitted with winter weather tyres, the stopping distance of a car braking at 60mph on a wet road at five degrees Celsius was reduced by five metres, equivalent to more than one car length. At 20mph a car with winter tyres stopped 11 metres sooner on ice and eight metres sooner on snow.
Adrian Walsh, RoadSafe director, said: “In winter, these tyres are a legal requirement in some European countries, including Germany and Austria.”
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is recommending the use of cold weather tyres in the wake of a government report which says that industry needs to be better prepared for the winter.
Less than 0.5% of market
Data from Continental Tyre Group UK shows winter tyres account for less than 0.5% of the UK’s 33 million tyre market. That’s some 165,000 tyres, fitted onto around 41,250 vehicles. The majority of those are sold for cars, then 4x4s, with vans taking 10%.
However, Continental said the indications were that the winter tyre market could treble this year.
Tom Whittaker, its sales manager for car fleets, said: “Having been bombarded with ad hoc requests for winter tyres, the major fleet leasing companies agreed to make plans to make winter tyres available for fleet customers for winter 2010/2011.
“Continental expects this to grow as fleets see the benefits of keeping vehicles moving safely in the cold.”
But with consumers still uncertain about their financial security, won’t the cost make winter tyres a hard sell?
Under Volvo’s initiative, its winter tyre and wheel packages start at £949+VAT plus an extra £170 annually if the customer wants Volvo to store their normal wheels and tyres.
The best targets could be dealers’ local businesses because they have to consider the cost of lost productivity and their duty of care over employees. Kwik-Fit claims it is fitting 2,200 winter tyres weekly for fleet customers. Those most keen include public and private sector organisations.
However, many fleets are keen to keep costs down. A recent poll by AM sister title Fleet News found just 22.6% of fleet managers would consider cold weather tyres.
So dealers will need to prepare a strong business case before approaching their target customers.
Luke Hicks, business executive at Mycompanyfleet, said: “Fleet managers have to balance the additional tyre costs against the likelihood of increased accident rates without the tyres, which have been proved to be more effective in braking and steering in both cold and wet weather conditions.
“But if switching to cold weather tyres saves one accident from occurring then the tyres more than likely pay for themselves,” he said.
Winter tyre promotions
The key question is this: Should dealers spend much time chasing winter tyre sales when there are easier wins for their aftersales teams?
Plenty of manufacturers seem to think so. Volvo and Toyota have pilot schemes at dealerships to provide winter tyres for interested customers.
BMW is promoting winter tyres within its network and Suzuki has vouchers for its customers to get free fitting when they buy a winter tyre and wheel set. Ford has partnered with Pirelli to offer winter tyres through its dealers, with a promise to refund half the cost if there are less than 30 days with sub-7 degree Celsius national average temperatures in January and February.