Management: With Vehicle Downsizing, Large Wheels are Tough to Sell

Management: With Vehicle Downsizing, Large Wheels are Tough to Sell

A few years ago, you could buy a 20-inch chrome-plated wheel from China for $125. Now that the Chinese government has reduced or removed subsidies to those wheel manufacturers and the U.S. dollar has lost value, those days are about gone. This article was planned a year ago, but I had no idea how much of an impact the economic climate was going to have on ....

By Scott Blair
Performance Editor
TIRE REVIEW Magazine

A few years ago, you could buy a 20-inch chrome-plated wheel from China for $125. Now that the Chinese government has reduced or removed subsidies to those wheel manufacturers and the U.S. dollar has lost value, those days are about gone.

This article was planned a year ago, but I had no idea how much of an impact the economic climate was going to have on our industry. A number of companies pulled out of the SEMA Show because the sales haven’t been there to support the huge expense of exhibiting. Even Las Vegas felt the crunch and started giving deals on rooms and amenities.

Just like most other industries right now, you can get a lot for a little in the wheel market if you are financially stable and savvy enough to know where to look.

Let’s start with the most common and work our way from there. American Tire Distributors has been marketing 20-inch painted wheels for $110-$145 for a couple of months. I priced a number of different options for a customer with a late model Dodge Charger. I found several 20-inch chrome-plated wheels for $169-$199 and 22-inch chrome-plated for $179-$209.

These same wheels were selling for 20%-40% more just a few months earlier. That’s $40-$80 off per wheel! Checking various suppliers, I found 265/35R22 tires selling for less than 255/45R20 from the same manufacturer.

As the light truck production lines have been shut down, the future demand for 22-inch and larger truck wheels will decrease, as well. I spoke to Horace Bennett with Western Distributors in Atlanta. When I asked him what would be on a deal for November, his reply was, “Anything that you want. It’s a buyer’s market just like houses right now. We are heavily discounting 22-inch and larger truck wheels and tires. We’re selling 22-inch light truck size tires for much less than smaller diameter tires. For those who can buy bulk right now, they will reap a huge amount of profit in the early spring.” That is, of course, if the economy bounces back.

I took a look at the Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza OE 22-inch tires for the 2007 Escalade. When new, this tire was $250+ each wholesale. Now, I’m finding them at $210 and below. Other brands, such as Continental and Hankook, were slightly less and Kumho and Yokohama were well below this price point. On a hunch, I checked the price on the 305/40R22, which is a plus-0 size and found the Dueler at $175 and below. As before, Kumho, along with Sumitomo and General, were sub $140 each in several locations.

Back to the wheels. Choice Auto Inc., which markets Merceli and Xpower wheels (xpowheels.com), is faxing deals on 20-inch chrome for $120, and 18- and 20-inch polished light truck wheels for $65 and $79, respectively. Other 20-inch chrome truck wheels are rolling at $110, 22-inch for $150 and 24-inch for $240. Common bolt patterns are available for now.

I would like to add that it is very important to be diligent in knowing what type of products you are buying and selling. Considering how many companies are dumping inventory right now, there may be some that have purchased less than desirable quality wheels. Ask the manufacturer or distributor to show proof that the wheels being sold have passed testing such as TÜV, VIA, JWL or ASE J2530. You will see these markings cast into the wheels, usually behind a spoke.

If you don’t see any markings, be very cautious. We have seen how the products of some Pacific Rim companies damaged a once financially stable company. If you import a product, the law sees you as being the manufacturer in many cases.

Changing Times
As I write this, GM announced the closing of another SUV plant in Wisconsin. Rumors of a possible merger with or acquisition of Chrysler are now circulating through the media.

With the uncertainty of this next year, I believe that we should all be looking to diversify our product lines and be ready to adjust to a different world. The shutdown of light truck lines is reminiscent of the 1970s when the muscle cars died off due to high insurance premiums and gas prices.

I see us going back to the mid-1990s when the ‘tuner’ revolution exploded. In light of this, I want to point you toward a couple of wheel manufacturers who are stable and even growing, despite the economy.

Enkei International produces wheels for the OE, aftermarket and racing industries. Stacy Smith, formerly with American Racing for nearly 20 years and now with Enkei, tells me, “We have always been strong in the small to medium car market and this has poised us to have several new styles in smaller 15- to 18-inch sizes ready by the first of the year.”

Stacy goes on to say, “The challenge we face is not with our distribution staff who sells to the dealer, but educating the dealers about our technology, which in many cases allows us to deliver a lighter weight wheel that lowers unsprung weight. That translates directly to better performance and fuel economy.”

I recently experienced this very situation, where a customer had a Celica GT with 15-inch factory wheels. She told me that she wanted to go no larger than 16-inch because she didn’t want the car to ride harsh. We put her on a set of 205/55R16 Bridgestone H-rated tires to give a balanced comfort/handling feel and she was completely satisfied.

For another perspective, I gave a call to Ken Cherpeski with Konig Wheels (konigwheels.com). Konig built its reputation on providing high quality aluminum wheels to fit small to medium size cars and a few truck applications.

Cherpeski echoed the same sentiment as Smith pertaining to the change regarding large diameter rims. “Kids who used to buy 17- or 18-inch wheels for their import are now asking for 15- or 16-inch because they want to keep the ride. The phase of putting the 17-inch-plus wheels and 40 series or lower tires has been the norm for nearly a decade. It looks good, but the only one enjoying the ride is the driver. The other three people are getting their teeth jarred out.”

Cherpeski goes on to say, “As for Konig, their numbers are up and sales are doing well, mainly due to the fact that they have kept a solid base with the car market.”

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