A real winter warmer?
After two successive cold winters (2009 and 2010) a lot was hanging on a frosty conclusion to 2011. While only five years ago winter tyre sales barely registered at less than 1 per cent UK market share, by the end of the opening months of 2011 various sources were reporting that the market had swollen to around 450,000 units, doubling and even tripling some wholesalers’ stock forecasts.
Thanks to the combined efforts of those producing, supplying and retailing these products, the British winter tyre market had finally emerged from hibernation and was (and still is, many would argue) on the brink of becoming a significant permanent feature. A third successive sub-zero winter would have sealed it – especially if there was a sizable amount of snow. The problem is that the weather appears not to be cooperating (Scotland excepted) and as we go to press the weathermen are describing the last season as one of the mildest on record.
Speaking to various sources within the tyre trade it seems that the winter season has been a tale of two markets – sell in and sell out. At the start of the premium manufacturers such as Michelin appears relatively pleased with their winter tyre sales performance. Jianni Geras, head of car tyre marketing at Michelin PLC went on the record as saying that the company expected the winter tyre market to reach the half a million mark because “drivers appear determined to avoid the chaos of losing grip on icy…roads” and that “this is also being taken on by tyre retailers.”
However, the latter is not so clear. There has been significant disquiet in some quarters when it comes to drawing a correlation between such high sell-in figures and actual retail sales, with some sources suggesting 20 per cent plus of the tyres sold into the market are still waiting to be sold out. One large national retailer, for example, is said to have been holding a large proportion of unsold winter stock in its warehouses alone.
More than just a lack of snow…
But if this is true, what has caused this slow down in winter tyre market velocity? Back in November 2011 tyre business analysts Encircle Marketing were reporting that the winter tyre sales season got off to a cautious start before gathering “significant momentum” by the end of the month. This report, which was based on mystery shoppers and callers, found that the clandestine consumers were often advised to “wait until December” before considering fitting winter tyres. Perhaps not the best way of ensuring winter tyre sales.
By the middle of December, the Goodyear UltraGrip8 appears to have been the most recommended brand over that period with 26 per cent of called garages leading with a budget brand. Other key recommended products included the Michelin Alpin4, Pirelli’s W24 and Conti’s Winter Contact TS810. But this doesn’t help us understand why or indeed if there has been a slowdown in winter tyre demand. The fact that the average price for a 205/55 16 V across a total market level was £111.85 and £106.06 for a 195/65 15 T may help shed some light.
In addition, there was clearly some narrative confusion – dealers apparently didn’t know how to explain or prioritise the fitment of winter tyres: “Disappointingly, some garages will still averse to recommending the need for winter tyres, with anecdotal feedback from some that simply putting on a new set of standard tyres ‘would do the job’,” Encircle wrote. That said, a picture speaks a thousand words. And a covering of snow across the country certainly would have helped.
One of the mildest winters on record it may have been, but at the tail end of January the meteorologists are predicting at least a week a week of chilly conditions. Will this be enough for the market to gain traction in what has proved to be a slippery season for all the wrong reasons? Only time will tell.