Auto Service World
Feature   June 4, 2018   by Donalee Moulton

As consumer demands shift, so do braking needs

As light trucks become the preference of drivers, suppliers are adjusting to keep pace

Consumers are preferring to buy light trucks, pushing brake manufacturers to adjust their products to meet demands.

There is a universal truth when it comes to cars: SUVs and crossovers own the road. Globally they represent the fastest-growing segments in the auto industry. In Canada, there are more light trucks than passenger cars. This reality is reshaping aftermarket parts and sales.

When it comes to avoiding an abrupt halt, suppliers are developing calipers and brake systems to perform as well for this segment as any non-SUV segment, said Dan Caciolo, head of product management for Continental Independent Aftermarket North America Powertrain and Brake Systems in Allentown, Penn.

“Performance attributes such as good brake pedal feel, modulation, dust, roughness, and noise are being developed to perform as well as other vehicle segments where a high level of braking satisfaction is required and expected,” he said.

The devil is in the details for drivers and their aftermarket suppliers. But it starts with the manufacturers, said Brian Kowalski, vice president of branded sales with Brake Parts Inc., in Vancouver.

“The small details in a pad make a difference when it comes to CUVs, SUVs and trucks, so it is critical that load, driving situations and weight are all considered during the research and development process. To fully service all applications and platforms, a manufacturer needs to offer a wide array of friction formulas.”

Friction formulations must be developed and selected based on the class of vehicle, the year and platform, and the type of driving that will be done with the vehicle. Great friction formulas are not necessarily great for all uses.

“The platform may fit, but the use of the vehicle may require a different formula if it is to be used for commercial situations, under heavy loads, for frequent towing, or other high energy requirements,” noted Kowalski.

In response to the new wave of vehicles hitting the road, vehicle manufacturers and their brake suppliers are designing braking systems that can meet the demands of multiple platforms. The OEs will typically develop a system to meet the requirements of their full-size SUVs and then those technologies will trickle down to smaller platforms, such as crossovers and passenger cars, said Christopher Battershell in Southfield, Mich., director of braking product management in North America with Federal-Mogul Motorparts, supplier of the Wagner Brake brand.

“As a result, many smaller late-model vehicles are equipped with more robust braking systems than they might have been in the past,” he said.

“To fully service all applications and platforms, a manufacturer needs to offer a wide array of friction formulas.”

— Brian Kowalski, Brake Parts Inc.

Still, vehicle type is not the primary driver to brake design. Duty cycle and energy loading are the key vehicle parameters impacting vehicle brake design, notes Eric Roszman, vice president of research and development in North America for Akebono Brake Corporation in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“Many crossovers and compact SUVs share the same foundation brake system as their sedan cousins. Because of the additional weight and additional weight transfer, because of the higher center of gravity, the front brakes may operate at higher temperatures.”

Rotor size, dynamic weight transfer, vehicle weight, and foreseeable use of the vehicle are all critical factors in determining the correct brake formulation, he added. “Friction material should be closely matched to the energy load of the vehicle, not necessarily just to the size of the vehicle.”

Ensuring the right brakes are installed in new vehicle classes goes beyond materials and manufacturer. Customer expectations need to be understood and met.

“The type of friction material paired with a particular brake system arguably has as much to do with if not the most to do with meeting the expectations of the customers of each class of vehicle,” said Caciolo.

Someone driving an entry-level car often cares most about being able to stop predictably and noiselessly with low to moderate effort, he notes, while the performance sector cares about an extreme level of deceleration regardless of other factors. Somewhere in the middle are the luxury brand customers looking to achieve the best of both worlds: predictability, high deceleration, low dust, no noise, and more.

Meeting expectations requires education. Jobbers need to look beyond suppliers’ marketing assertions, said Battershell. “It’s simply not enough to claim a brake pad ‘meets OE specifications,’ ‘reduces noise,’ or ‘offers longer life.’ Look for test results conducted to simulate real-world operating conditions.”

Service for brakes is becoming an increasingly important competitive opportunity for service and repair shops. Consumers are sensitive to changes in braking characteristics after they’ve had a repair and both the brake pad design and friction formulation need to match each vehicle’s unique attributes, said Battershell.

“Shops that get it right in selecting brake pads designed for today’s vehicles are more likely to gain and retain customers, while those that rely on older pads designed for older vehicles are likely to experience more comebacks.”

“… many smaller late-model vehicles are equipped with more robust braking systems than they might have been in the past.”

— Christopher Battershell, Federal-Mogul Motorparts, supplier of the Wagner Brake brand

As obvious as it sounds, not all brakes are made the same. Caciolo cautions jobbers not to discount the engineering and design time OEMs take to pair the proper formulation to the brake system and vehicle.

“Due to a lack of braking standards in North America, you will find several very low-grade options disguised as viable options,” he warned. “Work with your suppliers to educate yourself on the quality of products they provide, if they are an OEM, and what they recommend for your customer base.”

Presently, the focus is on one specific part of the braking system, noted Battershell. “Where we’re seeing the greatest product differentiation is in the brake pad itself, where it is critical for manufacturers – both at the OE and replacement levels – to use sophisticated modeling technologies, laboratory analysis and on-vehicle testing to develop an ideal pad design and material for each application,” he said.

Jobbers will also want to familiarize themselves with the new and emerging trends in brake pad designs and technologies. The next wave is toward copper-free friction materials. The trend on lighter SUV and CUVs has been ceramic pads. Now heavier vehicles are also coming equipped with ceramic brakes.

“Ceramics can produce lower dust and quiet operation,” said Jerry Forystek, director of friction product development with Brake Parts Inc., in McHenry, Ill.

“However, using ceramic on heavier vehicles that came OE with a semi-met may challenge vehicle braking performance.”

Jobbers, technicians, and the aftermarket in general also need to be wary of copper-free friction materials that are not genuine ceramic materials, said Roszman, noting that, in some cases, older semi-metallic friction formulations are being reconstituted.

“These formulations, while copper free, will not have the noise, dust, and judder-free performance of a well-developed ceramic,” he said.

“Government regulation,” Roszman added, “is also influencing basic brake design to enhance their environmental impact.”

Another trend is cars that come equipped with higher-performance brake systems usually with fixed calipers. Electric parking brake calipers with motor gear unit integration allow parking functionality and are becoming the choice of many OEMs over the more traditional drum in hat style parking systems, noted Caciolo.

Read the full feature in the May 2018 issue of Jobber News

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