Here’s Why VW Ran 195/65 R15 Tires On So Many Cars
Economies of scale are everything in the auto business.
As covered by Road and Track, a vast majority of VW Group cars all ended up wearing the same sized tires, specifically 195/65 R15. This was the company's most common wheel and tire fitment from the early 90s onward. Like so many trends in the VW Group, this was the brainchild of Ferdinand Piech.
It all started back in the 1980s. At the time, Piech was the CEO of Audi, and the company was working on the development of the Audi 100, known as the Audi 5000 in the US. The higher-spec models used 195/70 R15 tires, the same as used by Mercedes on its own luxury sedans. The size offered low drag thanks to the narrow width, but still offered enough contact patch for good handling, and a good load rating.
Piech realized that Audi had an opportunity to make serious savings. If it eliminated the 14" wheels from its lower-spec models, and standardized on 15" wheels instead, it would be ordering far more tires than its competitors at BMW and Mercedes. This would allow it to negotiate more favorable terms with suppliers thanks to economies of scale. Piech took on the procurement project himself. The end result was that the new 15-inch wheel and tire packages ended up coming in at a 15% saving compared to the previous 14-inch setup. The 15-inch wheels were quickly rolled out across the range, barring the Audi A8 and the company's sports models.
Piech's star continued to rise, and he went on to become the CEO of the broader Volkswagen Group. He quickly instituted a similar policy across the company's many brands. The 195/65 R15 tire size was selected for improved handling over the 195/70 R15, thanks to a slightly-lower sidewall. It was quickly rolled out across VW's own cars, as well as the Audi, Seat, and Skoda ranges as well. With so many brands all ordering the same tires, VW had huge leverage with suppliers, allowing it to drive costs down ever further.
Today, there isn't as much standardization across the VW range. Wheel sizes have trended up across the industry, and there's more variation, too. However, Piech's basic concept still rings true, and the principles of savings via standardization is still something that VW uses to great effect to this day.
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