Before I lived in Japan I never thought it would snow a lot. However, if you live on the Japan sea side of the country, winter tyres are a necessity and the highways start warning drivers from October to change wheels. In the winter months on snowy days you won’t be allowed onto the highway without snow tyres.
The snow tyre market in Japan is colossal!
According to Japan’s automobile tyre manufacturers association in 2021 the sales volume of winter tyres jumped 16% to 23.46 million tyres. Snow tyres account for 17% of all tyres sold in Japan.
Not everyone changes tyres. On the Pacific side of the country it’s largely dry and sunny in the winter and many drivers don’t bother, hence on the few days it snows in Tokyo, traffic can be chaotic (as in the UK where almost no one uses snow tyres).
No surprise the snow tyre season is a massive marketing opportunity. Snow tyres are expensive and the dealers encourage drivers to buy new wheels too. Yes snow tyre penetration is relatively high however there’s plenty of new users to go after. Brands like Blizzaks from Bridgestone, the world’s largest tyre and rubber company, and Ice Guard from Yokohama tyres are the forefront.
TV programmes are saturated with tyre commercials as well as social media feeds.
The tyre brands are also very good at shopper marketing with retailers like Autobacs enthusiastically building large impactful displays outside, and in-store.
Autobacs is one of Japan’s leading auto accessory chains. It started in Higashi Osaka in 1974 and has over 500 stores in Japan plus outlets in Taiwan, Singapore, Europe and the USA.
Like most retailers, Autobacs is keen to drive basket spend. Going out on icy days? Don’t forget your snow brushes or de-icer.
Tyre chains are also sold in Japan. Occasionally if it’s exceptionally icy and you’re on hilly roads, the snow tyres won’t be sufficient. However, putting chains on -and off- the car isn’t that easy, despite what these instructional videos might pretend! (That’s the biggest driver to convert users to buy snow tyres. If you’ve ever tried to install chains at night, in snowy conditions, you’ll know what I mean!)
Whilst there are foreign tyre brands in Japan, like Continental, Pirelli and Nokian, their share appears low.
I’m a Tesla driver and this year asked Tesla for a winter tyre quote. They recommended Nokian however these were over JPY 100,000 ($730) more expensive than Blizzaks. I’ve used Blizzaks several times in Hokkaido, the snowiest part of the country, and they’ve been fantastic.