By John Stone*:

Budget tyres are more suited to driving at slightly slower speeds along urban roads and cars that have average annual low mileages. And for higher speed levels on motorways and extended annual mileage, major A brands will ever be the right choice

I have recently been researching the international tyre market in order to reach a viewpoint on two of the industry’s most controversial questions – What is the difference between major A brands produced by leading manufacturers such as Michelin, Bridgestone, Pirelli, Goodyear Dunlop, Continental and Yokohama and more economically priced budget tyres?
So are cheaper tyres effectively a ‘false market’ when it comes to quality, comfort and safety?
Also how intensive and dedicated are tyre dealers/retailers and garages in actually explaining the varying qualities and benefits of individual brands to their customers?

‘Budget’ refers to price, not quality

Without a doubt, there are many conflicting views on this matter; but generally there are several facts we can establish instantly. Firstly, the premium brands produced exclusively by leading manufacturers will always cost considerably more than any other tyre range because they carry the name of an established and respected producer and therefore are expected to give motorists a higher level of driving performance, improved wear, grip and fuel efficiency.
In fact, the answer to this question actually depends on driving conditions and industry experts will tell you that at high speeds in wet conditions having a premium tyre fitted to your vehicle is a definite advantage. A series of recent tests carried out by a leading car magazine in Europe has confirmed that budget tyres will take on average a distance of 14 metres (the length of an articulated lorry) longer than premium tyres to stop from a speed of 70 mph. The premium tyres are also significantly quieter than their budget priced rivals.
So what about budget branded tyres? How do they defend themselves against such aggressive statistics? Well, in fact quite positively, as producers clearly state that the word ‘budget’ refers to price and not quality. Having spoken to a number of budget tyre producers, they universally state that budget tyres do not necessarily represent poor quality and the measure comes down to what a motorist actually expects from their tyres.
Broadly speaking, budget tyres are more suited to driving at slightly slower speeds and for urban roads and cars that have average annual low mileages. Therefore, these brands seem perfect for second family vehicles where distance is not so much of an issue.

Mid-range brands

So the distinction is clear…or is it? The international market now also has an increasing number of mid-range brands which confusingly sit between premium and budget ranges. These tyres are sometimes offered by major tyre companies under a different name and are promoted as being the perfect compromise between leading and budget brands as they provide additional tyre wear and fuel efficiency than cheaper budget tyres. It is also worth noting that the introduction
of EU Labeling on tyres, including the provision of clear performance levels, has significantly improved the chances of European drivers making a good judgement about the tyres fitted to their vehicle.
So it is established that, depending on individual driving styles, there is a difference between major and budget tyre brands. But what about tyre dealers/retailers and garages? Do they actually have a policy of always explaining the differences in quality, performance and value for money? This is a difficult question to answer because it all depends on the staff and company policies of each dealer, whether it’s a leading chain of sales outlets or individual independent businesses.
From information and analysis within the industry, SingEx (of which I am PR consultant)has been led to believe that roughly 40% of businesses will adopt a professional and conscientious approach to helping their customers buy the right type of tyre for their driving needs. However, that leaves 60% who will continue to put profit before personal service and, where possible, will always sell the brands that reap the most profit.
As previously stated, the tyre industry is becoming ever-increasingly competitive meaning that profit from tyre sales becomes an important lifeline for helping safeguard against difficult trading periods. Also this situation is not helped by the remarkably low interest and complete apathy by a majority of consumers who still regard buying tyres as a ‘stress purchase’ and simply do not appreciate how important they are in terms of safety and comfort.

The right choice

So what can we make out of the statistics above? Can cheap tyres be a false market? Well not really as it’s primarily a question of ‘horses for courses’ and just because a tyre is branded in the budget category does not necessarily mean it’s is poor quality. However, common sense tells us that budget brands are more suited to urban area driving at slower speeds and cars that only do relatively low mileage. On the other hand, for higher speed levels on motorways and extended annual mileage, major A brands are always going to be the right choice.
When it comes to a tyre retailer’s attitude towards the merits of individual brands, only time will tell whether quality of the product can ever overcome the attraction of profit on a sale.

*John Stone, Rubber Asias’s European Representative, is an international tyre and rubber journalist based in UK