Turning New Corners
A Look at What's Trending in the Wheel and Tire Market for 2023 and Beyond
In concept, wheels and tires seem simple enough. They're round, grip the road, spin on their axles, bear the load of a car or truck, and take a vehicle where it needs to go. What more can be said?
For the aftermarket, plenty more. The right wheels and tires enhance a vehicle's performance, but more than that, they also make a statement. Plus, they continue to advance in complexity and design year after year. These and other factors have made them a favored category for the aftermarket.
In fact, wheels and tires, along with suspension components, rank among the industry's healthiest product segments, according to SEMA Market Research Director Gavin Knapp. "We often say the wheel and tire segments are the 'gateway drugs' to our industry. They are great categories to be in because when consumers are spending, that's their starting point. It's a place where they can get the most bang for the buck in terms of customizing and personalizing their vehicles," he said.
That spending is especially strong among pickup owners, he added. "Whatever you're going to do with your pickup or 4x4, you're going to get the wheels and tires for it. And if you're going to lift it, you're definitely getting new wheels and tires to go with that lift kit."
Younger consumers with a penchant for sportier cars also find wheel and tire upgrades irresistible. "Whether you have a true performance vehicle and want its outside look to match what's under the hood, or if you just want your Camry to look like it's a performance vehicle, wheels and tires offer an ideal way to do it," explained Knapp.
No wonder that—despite some initial worries in 2020—wheels and tires managed to not only ride out the pandemic but grow in sales. (Of course, tires had the added advantage of being a perishable necessity. "No matter what kind of car you have, whether it's a gas car, an electric car, a truck, a van, or whatever, there's always a need for tires," Knapp observed.)
››› Wheels of all types exhibited at Global Tire Expo at the 2022 SEMA Show. Rims in the 20- to 24-in. diameter range seemed to be the prevailing trend.
Sizing the Market
Just how big are wheels and tires with consumers? According to the "2023 SEMA Market Report," the wheels, tires and suspension category accounted for $12.21 billion in sales, with wheels and tires contributing $6.60 billion to that total. Breaking down the figures further, the performance and special-purpose tire market was sized at $2.84 billion, off-road and oversized tires at $2.18 billion, and custom wheels at $1.58 billion. All these figures represent robust growth over prior years.
In terms of tire sales, performance and specialty categories do well across nearly every vehicle segment. Not surprisingly, pickup applications comprise 64% of off-road and oversize tire sales, with SUVs coming in a distant second at 25% of sales. The bulk of purchasing for all tire types is done in-store, although DIY installations account for 17% of off-road and oversize tire buys, and 20% for performance and specialty tires.
Pickup applications also make up the highest percentage of custom wheel sales (31%), followed by SUVs (18%), midsize and large cars (13%), CUVs (10%), small cars (9%) and sports cars (8%). Nearly 40% of all wheel purchases are made for in-store pickup and install. Online ship-to-home orders account for 25% of purchases, and online orders for in-store pickup and installation comprise 28% of purchasing.
Moreover, the future continues to look bright for wheel and tire businesses. "Based on input from [our] members, we saw many positive wheel and tire trends going into 2023. In general, supply-chain issues were finally resolving. Losses from 2022 appeared to have stabilized, and our RTO customers were increasing," said Mike Lusso, SEMA Wheel & Tire Council (WTC) chair-elect.
"Also, there has been development in electric vehicle (EV) technology across all major brands, along with the tires and wheels that support those vehicles. The development of non-pneumatic tires continues as well."
Meanwhile, as supply-chain issues stabilized this past year, overseas brands flowed back into the market.
Beyond 2023, industry experts say they'll also be keeping their eyes on the following market trends:
- As pickups—and especially CUVs—come to dominate the American market over the next decade, wheel and tire offerings in the light-truck category will likewise proliferate.
- With off-roading, overlanding and powersports also growing in popularity, consumer demand for applications aimed specifically at those pursuits will only rise.
››› With industry training becoming more critical than ever, Global Tire Expo hosts numerous hands-on technical demonstrations throughout SEMA Show Week. The Hunter Engineering booth is always a focal point for Expo attendees seeking the latest tools and technology.
- Increasing competition among China, India, Thailand and Vietnam will likely help manufacturers contain costs while expanding production.
- Advancing technology and logistics will allow manufacturers to make and move product faster and more efficiently.
- The rise of EVs will spur wheel and tire makers to address issues associated with higher torque, increased wear and tear, rolling resistance, weight and quiet operation.
- Additionally, as EVs go mainstream, their owners will likely become more open to vehicle modification than they typically are now, increasing wheel and tire sales in this space.
- Green and sustainability regulations and initiatives will undoubtedly also exert greater influences on the choice and sourcing of raw materials as well as manufacturing processes.
With these trends taking shape, competition is already heating up, especially among tire makers. And that competition has made marketing more important than ever, said Roman Racela, marketing director for the Venom Power and Predator Tire brands, subsidiaries of Transamerica Tire based in Memphis, Tennessee. Both the brands target the coveted truck
"Obviously, there are many tire companies [and] other brands that we have to compete with," he explained. "We need to make sure that we have a good product and that people know about the brand."
For Racela, that has meant strong print and social-media campaigns with a heavy dose of influencer endorsements and consumer education.
"The selection for tires on any vehicle is really important," he observed. "It really boils down to philosophy of use. If you're going to use it for a specific purpose, you have to match your tools to accomplish your goals to reach your destination."
Fortunately, in today's tire market there's something for everyone. Aided by advanced technologies, tire designs and compounds continue to evolve, delivering constantly improved handling, grip and wet traction, plus improved rock and debris ejection to boot.
››› Wheels and tires, along with suspension components, rank among the industry's healthiest product segments, according to SEMA Market Research Director Gavin Knapp.
In 2021, this magazine reported that while pandemic lockdowns and supply-chain issues had briefly roiled the wheel market, the segment was proving resilient and poised for growth. If anything, the 2022 SEMA Show confirmed that. Wheel exhibitors showed up en masse, and the big trends were aggressive new spoke patterns and dazzling wheel finishes for trucks as well as street performance cars.
"Obviously following a lot of adjustments in the market with performance parts, customers are looking for safe, reliable modifications, and rims and tires have proven to be that," said Nicolas Nazzaro, CEO of Subimods, a Bloomfield, Connecticut, online retailer specializing in the Subaru sport compact aftermarket. "In terms of style, it's across the board. Six spoke, five spoke, flashy colors. Very popular in 2022 [were] yellows, blues, oranges, whites, just nonstandard colors and designs. We find that the consumer base that we cater to likes to know that their money delivers a flashy design. They want to stand out."
Chrome wheels also remain highly prized, which brought Superior Industries to the 2022 SEMA Show as a first-time exhibitor. Based in Southfield, Michigan, the company has been in the OEM wheel business since 1957, and believes its OEM-level technology is now a good fit for the aftermarket.
"We're able to offer superior powdercoating and acrylics," said Jim Kruse, the company's senior account manager for aftermarket wheels. "As far as finishes go, we offer any color you can imagine in the rainbow."
According to Kruse, Superior Industries also boasts the only OEM-approved PVD chroming process in the industry. "We've learned there's a lot of interest in coming back to bright chrome, and the PVD option is very environmentally friendly," he said.
The company further specializes in a laser-etching process that can reach down through different color layers applied to a wheel to create daring, intricate line patterns in the finish.
In regards to the wheels themselves, "flow-forged" products continue to gain in popularity due to their weight savings compared with cast wheels and their lower price points compared to forged wheels.
"Flow-forging technically is one of the most up-and-coming [manufacturing techniques] that we see," said Nazzaro. "There are a lot of new brands coming out of the Asian Pacific sector that are doing flow-forging, taking that path and kind of rolling the wheel out. That is probably the most advanced product that's coming out because forged wheels were usually on the highest end of spectrum on price, with your cast, flow-form stuff on the bottom." Bridging that gap would be key to success, he added, "because end users get a really well-put-together product for a mid-level price."
Meanwhile, the wheel accessories market is also looking up, said Chris Buck, owner of Custom Wheel Accessories. Based in Murrieta, California, the family-run wholesale distributor is dedicated to supplying a full line of lug nuts, spacers, valve stems, wheel weights, and all the hardware needed to mount and balance wheels.
Asked what the current big sellers are, Buck replied: "OEM, Ford and GM lug nuts are very hot, but probably our hottest commodity are aluminum spacers. Whether you're spacing the wheels out for a more aggressive look, or if you have a set of wheels you want to put on a vehicle of a different bolt pattern, we offer almost 400 SKUs of just spacers and adapters alone."
"Some of the old vintage stuff has definitely been dying off—hubcaps, knockoff spinners, things of that nature," he continued. "But we're trying to bring that stuff back because they've been phased out over time and there is still a demand for older vehicle stuff [like] wire wheels and
The Road Ahead
Although generally optimistic about the future, industry sources do see some challenges ahead. Inflation, continued economic uncertainty and slacking OEM sales may negatively impact the market. Current used-car prices may also hinder the transfer of older vehicles to new owners who would dress up their purchases with new wheels. Fresh business models like mobile installation may further upend traditional brick-and-mortar operations.
Longer term, Lusso sees increasing challenges for the industry from electrification and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). New technologies are driven by market consumption, he said, "and shop owners need education to support the vehicles they see in the shop. Wheels and tires are the first things to hit the road, so we need good education around the effects they bring to the vehicle."
While conceding that keeping up with change and emerging technologies can be costly, Lusso believes that investments made now will benefit individual companies and the entire industry at large. "We need to push forward," he said.
WHEELS & ACCESSORIES
As of August 15, 2023
All-Fit Automotive 49211
AST Inc. 49131
Atrump Machinery Inc. 46107
Azad Wheels 48167
Changzhou Wujin Hutang Hongsheng Machine Fittings Factory 47093
China Wheel (Taishan) Co. Ltd. 47125
CIC POWERBOX LLC 49069
CORLEONE FORGED 48045
Custom Wheel Accessories Inc. 46033
Custom Wheel Solutions LLC 47023
Deluxe Wheel Co. 47069
Design Infini 47036
Direct Wheel Source 47035
Elegance Wheels 48089
ELLIS ENGINEERING 48201
Evo Corse 48189
Excel Tire Gauge 49133
Factory Reproductions 46027
Falcon Off-road Wheels 46177
FARAD USA Corp. 46121
Ferrada Wheels 47041
Foshan Hongtian Automobile Industry Co. Ltd. 47187
4PLAY Wheels 46097
FRACING WHEELS 48093
Fujian Shenlika Aluminum Industry Development Co. Ltd. 47089
Galaxy Wire Wheels 47038
GATZ Automotive 48092
G.M.P. GROUP s.r.l. 49196
Guangzhou Jova Car Accessories Co. Ltd. 47171
Hangzhou Fortune Supply Chain Co. Ltd. 49115
Hebei Longrun Automotive Co. Ltd. 47197
Heritage Wheel 48128
Hostile MKW Wheels 48031
Hubei Hongmada Wheel Co. Ltd. 12869
Impact Wheels 47101
Inforged International Co. Ltd. 48061
IVISIONWHEEL Co. Ltd. 47203
JHM Inc. 48170
Jianda Auto Parts & Wheel Accessories 46115
Jiangsu Pomlead Co. Ltd. 48161
Jiangyin Premier Autoparts Industry Co. Ltd. 47065
J.M. Nault Wheel Weights 48194
JTX Forged 48129
KARMA WHEELS 47194
Kinghwa Toptrue Wheel Co. Ltd. 47059
King Point Automotive Hebei Ltd. 49092
Konig American 48021
Laser My Wheels 48200
Lawrence Engineering Co. 47170
Lexani Wheel Corp. 44121
Lianyungang Yohun-Tech Alloy Co. Ltd. 48198
Liberty Forged 48177
LS Industries 49070
LT AUTO PARTS 47097
Luxor Wire Wheels 48115
Luxxx HD, Luxxx Alloys, Versatyre, Venom Sport Alloys 46129
Manatec Electronics LLC 47167
MCGARD LLC 46021
Motorsport Technology Inc. 47161
MP Wheels 48101
Multistar International Canada Inc. 47190
MV Forged 48079
MW Aftermarket S.R.L. 49194
Ningbo Elite Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 48067
NINGBO EXTREME 11444
Ningbo Fortune Auto Parts Manufacturer Co. Ltd. 46039
Ningbo Freeman Auto Components Co. Ltd. 49055
Ningbo Hi-Tech Zone Tongcheng Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 48202
Ningbo Junda Auto Parts Industry Co. Ltd. 47195
Ningbo Kintop Autoparts Co. Ltd. 45275
Ningbo Longtime Machine Co. Ltd. 48097
Ningbo Luxiang Autoparts Manufacturing Co. Ltd. 49213
Ningbo Mingjiang Intelligent Equipment Co. Ltd. 48171
Ningbo Phecda Internaltional Trading Co. Ltd. 49119
Ningbo Siming Automotive Co. Ltd. 46171
Ningbo Suhao Autoparts Import and Export Co. Ltd. 49117
Ningbo Weigao Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 46195
Ningbo Wheel Friends Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 49059
Ningbo Xiangheyuan Autoparts Co. Ltd. 48096
Ningbo Yinzhou Huachi Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 49066
Ningbo Yinzhou Jinuo Auto Accessories Co. Ltd. 47032
Ningbo Yinzhou Rongfei Metal Products Co. Ltd. 49129
Ningbo Zumbo Wheels Co. Ltd. 49068
One Billion Tires LLC 47083
1-800EveryRim OEM Wheels 49089
Player Wheels 48108
Prime Wheel Corp. 47021
PrioRim Technologies Inc. 48109
Protech Wheel Industrial Co. Ltd. 46051
Quantum Alloy Wheels 49095
RHINO TIRE USA LLC 41265
Rohana Wheels 47025
Royal 4 Systems 45291
RTX Wheels 48053
Rubicon Automotive Group 49111
Shandong Better Wheel Co. Ltd. 46187
Shandong Meika Wheel Co. Ltd. 47175
Silver MetalX Inc. 49101
SMX Dicastal Wheel Manufacture Co. Ltd. 46199
Sowell Wheels 49105
TIS OFFROAD 84320
Topline Products 46079
2CRAVE LIFE 44091
TW Racing Parts Inc. 49063
TW Wheels Inc. 48082
UniAuto Inc. 44055
Voxx Products 46067
The Wheel Group 44037
White Knight Wheel Accessories 46045
Wicked Extreme Offroad 47029
Xiamen Sunrise Group Co. Ltd. 48125
Xiangyang Hengde Auto Parts Co. Ltd. 49093
XIX Wheels 48020
XXR Wheels 46057
YAMARU Co. 49107
Yangzhou Haina Auto Parts Manufacturing Co. Ltd. 47133
ZERO SRL 49190
Zhejiang Baochi Industry & Trade Co. Ltd. 48071
Zhejiang Baokang Wheel Manufacture Co. Ltd. 47109
Zhejiang Buyang Autowheel Co. Ltd. 49123
Zhejiang Hongtian Automobile Technology Co. Ltd 47181
Zhejiang Hongxin Technology Co. Ltd. 47079
Zhejiang Sunrise Wheels Manufacture Co. Ltd. 47201
Zhejiang Yueling Co. Ltd. 47051
Zhongnan Aluminum Wheel (Guangdong) Co. Ltd. 49053
Zylux International 46191
NEW PRODUCTS PREVIEW
As of August 15, 2023
Walker Evans Racing Legend II Beadlock UTV Wheel
Walker Evans Racing's UTV True Beadlock Racing Wheels resemble the company's well-known off-road racing truck wheels. This high-pressure, cast-aluminum wheel gives you superior strength for any situation you come across whether pounding the dunes or hitting the open desert. The wheels are available in 14x6, 14x7 and 15x6 sizes. Wheels are drilled to order; turnaround time is seven to 10 days to machine. (Beadlocked wheels are for off-road use only.)
Konig Wheels UltRagram
The Ultragram is a new seven-spoke design built with flow-forming technology. Two spoke profiles are available; a Profile (pictured) and B Profile. The rims are available in a new Dark Graphite and Matte Silver. We've integrated feedback from our motorsport teams, racers and drivers into both of our new designs this year. We've pushed the face out and allowed for as much brake caliper protrusion as well as overall brake diameter near the drop center. This provides excellent caliper clearance for big brake car and aftermarket big brake kits. The wheels are offered in 10 sizes ranging from 15x7 to 18x11, with high and low offsets available.
AEV Salta XR Wheel for Bronco
The Salta XR from American Expedition Vehicles represents the evolution of the widely popular Salta wheel and is now compatible with the new Ford Bronco. The Salta XR's race-inspired, 12-spoke design provides additional strength for maximum durability on- and off-road, while AEV's signature recessed valve stems provide added protection from rocks on the trail. The Salta XR is a platform-specific wheel, so each application will have the proper offset/backspacing, giving you the perfect balance of tire clearance, scrub radius and handling.
American Racing VF404 GTP II
American Racing has introduced the Torq Thrust GTP II wheel. Made famous for being the wheel of choice for race-built Porsche 911s and 912s of the '60s, the Torq Thrust GTP is an iconic motorsport wheel with timeless style.