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Are cheaper Chinese-Made Winter Tires a Smart Choice?

When Auto123 published our guides to winter tires for cars and for SUVs and pickups earlier this fall, we chose not to include cheaper Chinese-made tires. The only exception was the GT Radial tires, made by a company that actually originated in Indonesia though it now has plants in China, as well as in South Carolina and elsewhere.

Chinese-made winter tires have been available in Canada for over 10 years now. However, you may not know that there are over 250 different tire-manufacturing companies in existence in China, some of which – Triangle for example – are among the world’s biggest. So why are so many people hesitant to give them a try? 

Not recommended, but not NOT recommended
Not that long ago, CAA-Québec, for one, refrained from “recommending” Chinese-made tires, though they didn’t proscribe them either. It was more a questions of Buyer Beware; the organization advised that members should properly verify the quality of the tires they were considering buying. Like everyone else, it understood that the pricing of Chinese-made tires – often up to 30% less than those made by better-known tire-makers – could make them an appealing choice for motorists on a limited budget.

The fact is that we simply don’t know enough about the reliability and durability of many of these products, even some that have been on our market for a while. Sometimes, habits change only very slowly. Still today, one of the bigger American online tire retailers, Tire Rack, does not carry Chinese-made tires in its inventory.

Photo: Land Rover

Chinese ambitions
Most people are likely not unaware that China has for many years been aggressive about reaching deep into foreign markets in a whole array of domains. Most recently, think of Huawei and its smartphones. 

When they are late to a particular market and the technologies of its products, the Chinese commonly use the strategy of appropriating whichever ones they can to catch up. It was a strategy used very successfully by Japanese firms after World War Two.

Wat this means is that Chines companies often use not old but the very latest machinery (if they don’t build brand-new ones themselves that are even more advanced), the latest technologies, and the latest perfected materials. They’ve also been known to poach top experts and technicians from foreign manufacturers! 

What’s more, the biggest tire and rubber manufacturers like Michelin, Goodyear, Yokohama, Continental and others now operate plants in China as well. Which is hardly surprisingly, given that it represents the world’s largest market, and one that has embraced modern technologies and production processes.

Fun fact: The legendary Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli, the world’s fifth-largest tire producer, has since 2015 been majority-owned by Chinese state company ChemChina, led by a Chinese CEO.

Photo: Mazda

Expertise in winter tires?
Many of those 250 Chinese companies mentioned earlier, many are just starting out and may not yet have developed a particular expertise in the technologies required to produce high-quality winter tires. To wit, there are to date very few performance winter tires in the catalogs of Chinese tire makers.

Watch the industry closely, and you see new names being regularly added to the ranks of Chines firms making tires, and new products being distributed in our market for the first time.

By the way, you can now even find a Chinese tire manufacturer that references Quebec in its name. The Quinzdao Kebek Tire company makes car and truck tires, winter tires and tires for heavy machines for the Chinese market, but also for ours! 

The rapid proliferation of brands makes evaluating and comparing products with competing models challenging. To add to the confusion, many brands are distributed here under Chinese names, which can make it difficult for consumers here to sort out one from the other.

Photo: Auto123.com

This cacophony of variables on the market has led many of the big European, American and Canadian media outlets to give short shrift to Chinese-made tires, even as a few of them start to be used as OE (Original Equipment) on some North American or European vehicles coming out of the factory. For example, Triangle Tyres, which produces 25 million ties per year, is an official supplier for Nissan, Volvo and even GM in Asia.

Clearly, today’s Chinese tire industry is a force to be reckoned with worldwide.

Over time, we at Auto123 hope to get the opportunity to properly evaluate more Chinese-made winter tires. For the moment, we play the role of observer as we look at this section of the market, soaking up comments from retailers and suppliers and, of course, the experiences of users themselves.

All tires, Chinese-made or not, face the same reality when it comes to winter products: the winter tire is a compromise. It cannot be made to be equally effective on dry, wet, snowy or icy road surfaces, nor will it last as long if, say, it’s made of a performance rubber compound instead of featuring a deep tread made for highway driving. A tire also can’t be both really quiet and a top performer in deep snow.

Photo: Auto123.com

On the other hand, it’s also wise to remember the cliché about tires, that they represent your vehicle’s points of contact with the road – and relatively tiny points of contact they are. Your safety depends on choosing quality tires!

A big selling point for Chinese tires is the pricing. But never base your decision only on that. Speak with the sales representative at your preferred tire outlet.

Some viable choices
Here are a few examples of winter models available on the Canadian market from Chinese tire manufacturers. Some of these tires have been available here for a number of years; others are more recent, but that in fact might even an element in their favour as they may be more advanced. Please note these don’t necessarily represent recommendations; the goal of the exercise is to inform you above all.

Westlake SW608: Westlake tires have been available on our market for several years. Brand distributors know the products and can help motorists with useful advice. The SW608 winter tire is available in several sizes, and even with studs.

Photo: Westlake

Westlake products are designed for most budget-minded consumers since they come in sizes for most smaller cars. They do, however, tend to be noisy on dry road surfaces. Westlake tires are made by giant Chinese manufacturer Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber. 

Goodride SW608: The name certainly tries its best to sway potential buyers; in fact the Goodride SW608 is another popular model in the same category as the Westlake SW608. You’ll note the identical name on the two products, and that comes from them being made by the same manufacturer. Both offer similar capabilities and are reasonably priced.

Photo: Goodride

Incidentally, German magazine Auto Bild carried out testing on 50 different tire models, including the Westlake/Goodride SW608 duo. The outlet gave the product a Recommended rating (one of only 16 out of the 50 to earn the designation). It beat out several other affordable models, especially in regards to braking performance.

Sailun WSL Ice Blazer: This has been available in Canada for a few years already, and the Canadian importers of the Sailun brand want it to be considered the most “respectable” of the bargain-price tires on the market. To that end, they organized a demonstration last winter that pitted their WSL2 against equivalent tires from other brands, but with the names covered over to ensure a fair analysis by journalists.

Photo: Sailun

Note that this tire, available in most standard sizes, is a stud-less product with large grooves to help it dig into the snow. Sailun tires are substantially less expensive that non-Chinese-made competing tires.

Minerva Eco-Stud et S: Highly recommended by several tire retailers, Minerva tires actually have a storied history behind them. The brand originally came into being in Belgium and was named to evoke a model that was once produced there. It was then distributed by German giant Continental, before becoming an independent brand producing its tires in Europe and in China.

Photo: Minerva

Its flagship products include the Eco Stud, S110-S210-S220 line and S310 model, which include performance versions with V speed index, made for both cars and SUVs.

Momo North Pole W2: The Momo company, which specialized in sports car accessories, announced that its recent North Pole W2 tire was developed in Italy. According to Tire Business magazine, however, the specifications on the sides of the tires indicated they are actually manufactured in China by Shandong Jinyu Industrial Rubber.

One thing this tells us is that Chinese manufacturers are heading the requirements of tire designers and producing modern tires. At the same time, doing some research by reading online comments by those who have used the product will tell you more about the “new” product.

There are, as mentioned, a ton of other Chinese products out there, among them Maxxis, Joyroad, Wanli, Linglong, Landsail, etc. Over time we hope to be able to evaluate the majority of the products being offered on our market.