Wheelwright responding to tough passenger market with niche growth
Market conditions in Europe for the aftermarket sale of car, 4×4 and light commercial vehicle wheels have continued to provide an inhospitable environment to those active in the area. The ability to sell luxury, desire-driven items in a down economy has been a question to which UK distributor Wheelwright has continued to seek an answer since 2008. The company has taken many positive steps, having revamped its website and e-commerce services to address growing internet buying habits; introduced the private Calibre and Calibre Couture brands; and increased marketing to a more diverse range of applications, such as winter and van wheels. Wheelwright managing director, Kevin Greer told Tyres & Accessories that the company has found positives in certain niches having “acknowledged the reduced demand” of the UK car wheel market.
“Interest from operators of light commercial vehicles has grown,” Greer says, reflecting more interesting size and style options for what was once a deeply conservative segment. He says interest has grown thanks to such fitments as 20” wheels on Volkswagen’s Transporter T5 and the Vauxhall Vivaro. There has also been increased interest in steel and alloy winter wheels. Another encouraging market has been the used prestige vehicle market, which traditionally picks up when drivers seek to make more economical purchases. Greer explains that aesthetic modifications such as new wheels can be a very attractive and “cost-effective” way for buyers to spruce up older models.
Tyres & Accessories asked whether there was a chance that tyre dealers would seek to add wheels to their product range, since diversification is generally seen as a good option in economically difficult times. Greer explained that there had been “an exodus from the high street a few years ago” as e-commerce became more attractive, but that Wheelwright is seeing the beginnings of a return. Greer explains that the growth of e-Commerce seems to have plateaued and higher prices have brought with them “increased interest in contact with sales” and customer service teams. A Tyrepress poll run on the website over the past month suggests that there is plenty of room to grow tyre depots’ interest in wheel sales, with only two per cent of respondents saying they do currently sell wheels.
New designs look to past, US
Trends of wheel sales in the USA, to which much of Europe looks in this segment, suggest that a recovery could be coming, since 2012 estimates put growth at around four per cent in the country. Understandably, the latest aesthetic choices have also been inspired by US styling, Greer says, with three major fashion trends being “concave wheels, three-spoke wheels and old school designs.” Greer also points to the influence of “extreme West Coast styling”, which favours “uniqueness as a key want” of the part of wheel segment catering to a largely 20s and 30s male demographic.
Some of the latest wheels from Wheelwright private brand Calibre include the CC-X, a retro-inspired design with the latest technology and finishing techniques; the CR-III, responding to the comeback of the three-spoke wheel; and the more modern, heavily concaved Calibre Couture CC-V.
The CC-X is sized for a wide range of fitment and PCD options. Finished in a brushed silver hue inspired by the latest surface textures, the CC-X uses the classic ‘mesh’ design with pseudo-split-rim styling and an aggressive shouldered spoke that allows it to be fitted with larger brakes.
Recalling Brabus and Saab designs the CR-III also has pseudo split-rim detailing and a fashionable deep dish rim. With 8×18” and 9×18” sizes, the wheel is designed to look at home on retro rides, Wheelwright says.
The Calibre Couture CC-V is a more modern, heavily concaved design aimed at the more prestige end of the market for tuned VIP, Jap or Euro cars. Finished in satin silver with a polished lip, the CC-V’s five spoke design features substantial geometric shapes with an aggressive shoulder that cuts back into the deep lip, along with clearly defined perpendicular edges to all front faces. This allows for large caliper clearance, permitting the fitment of the largest possible brake upgrades. Calibre has targeted many 18, 19 and 20-inch sizes for this wheel, making it a major release in this category. Wheelwright says that this latest Couture release is currently extremely popular.