Wanted: new winter tires in Germany. The combination of hefty snowfall and new rules has led to a shortage of tires approved for ice, snow and slush.
Winter tires are in hot demand in cold and icy Germany
Since Saturday, drivers in Germany are required to use winter tires. But for those still without them, the search could gobble up plenty of time – and the reward could be costly.
"There is definitely a shortage of winter tires," said Peter Huelzer, head of the BVR federal association for tire dealers. "Many dealers say they can't deliver across all models and one large wholesaler said he may be out of tires by Wednesday."
And even those lucky enough to track down tires could find themselves waiting several days to have them mounted due to huge demand for limited auto hoist capacity in service stations, Huelzer added.
More winter tires delivered
It's not as if the industry didn't know the new rules would lead to greater demand. Manufacturers delivered some 25 million winter tires to dealers, or roughly 20 percent more than the previous year, according to Huelzer. Theoretically, he said, that increase should have covered demand for the estimated 5 million vehicles still without winter tires. About 88 percent of vehicles in Germany are meanwhile equipped with winter tires.
It looks as if the combination of the new regulations and the unexpected heavy snowfall led to a run on winter tires," Huelzer told Deutsche Welle. "I'm still trying to understand this phenomenon. If you increase the supply 20 percent, how can you have a shortage?"
Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, approved new winter tire rules
One possible answer, he said, is that icy winter conditions across much of Europe has created significant demand and may have prompted some international wholesalers to move products to markets where they can achieve higher prices.
Also, some dealers may be holding onto their winter tires for a while in the hope of garnering a top price, according to Huelzer, who has observed soaring prices for some tires . "We heard of winter tires for the Audi A2, which typically cost around 45 euros each, selling for as much as 150 euros each," he said. "But we're also hearing that prices are stabilizing. Drivers will just have to shop around if they're looking for reasonable deals at this point."
Caught in snow or slush
Compounding the problem is the fact that most manufacturers are now producing summer tires. "There aren't any new shipments in the pipeline, unless some containers unexpectedly arrive from Asia or somewhere else," Huelzer said. Goodyear is the only manufacturer he knows to have cranked open winter tire production again.
Drivers in Germany have been battling snow and ice in recent weeks
Under the new rules passed by the German government last month, drivers caught with summer tires in ice, snow or slush must pay a 40-euro fine, up from 20 euros in previous years. And those who obstruct traffic as a result of inappropriate tires face an 80-euro fine and a penalty point on their driver's record.
Germany is among the first in Europe to require winter tires, including many of the Nordic countries. By comparison, neighboring Austria and Switzerland recommend but don't mandate their use during the winter months.
The new ruling approves all tires that carry an "M+S" (Matsch und Schnee) label, or "slush and snow."
Lawmakers, however, fell short of agreeing on winter tire specifications. As a result, Huezler said, manufacturers are free to label their tires as they please. "Some tires from China with M+S marking are not winter tires," he said but was quick to add that "no serious tire manufacturer" would deliberately mislabel products because of legal ramifications. A European Union labeling ordinance, planned to go into effect in 2012, will require product specifications and fill the gap in the German legislation, he added.
Author: John Blau
Editor: Andrea Roensberg