Today, import vehicles are being kept well beyond the 10-year/160,000-kilometre range, and as a result, many owners are choosing higher-quality replacement parts in order to keep their vehicles in top operating condition. This growing trend is providing jobbers with an ideal opportunity to capitalize on premium brake part sales. The continued growth of urbanization and the consequent increase in vehicles in operation have resulted in more stop-and-go traffic than ever before. Combine this with the increasing average vehicle age (currently 10.4 years in Canada), and you have higher wear and tear on brake components, resulting in strong, continuous growth for the aftermarket. The aftermarket has done a good job of responding to changes at the OE level with products that properly replicate the fit, form, and function of original parts. “Currently, new OEM vehicles must pass FMVSS135 requirements for stopping distance; however, there are no set requirements for brake components in the aftermarket in the United States or Canada,” explains Terry Heffelfinger, vice-president, product development, R&D, and Quality Brake Parts Inc. “Industry standards such as SAE J2784 and D3EA are a means to do conformance assessment of FMVSS135 through dynamometer testing. Many European applications historically use semi-metallic friction formulations with a high friction level. For example, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi have very aggressive friction formulas, whereas many U.S. and Asian import applications use ceramic materials for the majority of their vehicle platforms,” adds Heffelfinger. “The European makes require harder pad formulations for a more responsive feel to the brake, while the domestic [versions] tend to be softer pads because they want that more gradual stopping feel. The impact is the owners of European vehicles usually stick with the European formulations and will not use the domestic formulations,” adds Inroble International vice-president Mike Zhao. “Raybestos brand Element3 with Enhanced Hybrid Technology combines the best of both worlds, providing high friction, quiet performance, and low dust. It meets industry standards as well as copper legislation in the states of Washington and California,” adds Heffelfinger. “In every industry, research and development always needs to be ongoing. Brake friction formulations are continually evolving to work with their intended platforms. Better grades of raw materials and variations in formulations and production methods are constantly being explored and are always a compromise between performance, longevity, noise, and dust,” explains Agna Brakes director of sales and marketing Lorne Cherry. “For the most part, European vehicles are at the forefront of providing better braking performance and characteristics. At Agna Brakes, we continually work very closely with our domestic and overseas manufacturers in a continual effort to provide the best possible solutions in all of our product categories by evaluating and testing materials on various vehicles, as a single formulation cannot and does not work well on every platform,” adds Cherry. “Both OEMs and aftermarket customers continue to demand that their brakes meet or exceed their performance expectations. The new Wagner OE21 low-copper formulations include a complex matrix of materials that replicate the functions of copper while providing across-the-board performance improvements such as being 35% quieter, providing 15% more stopping power, up to 40% greater fade resistance, longer life, and reduced dusting,” explains Christopher Battershell, director, braking product management, North America, Federal-Mogul Motorparts and the Wagner Brake Brand. With price points between first- and second-line brake pads much closer now, jobbers can more easily move customers up to a premium product that will provide better performance, increased safety, and reliability. “The majority of our sales in Canada are in our first-line brake parts categories. As the price gap narrows, it continues to drive more sales to the premium line, as it only makes sense to pay a little more to get a product that has a longer life, while also providing improved safety by shortening the stopping distance by 20-25%,” explains Brian Kowalski, vice-president branded sales, Canada, Brake Parts Inc. “As a general rule, you get what you pay for. Not to say that lower-priced brakes don’t have a place or don’t work; however, they most definitely do not work to the capacity that premium products do,” explains Cherry. “Again, this comes back to education, when people start to realize that saving a few bucks in the short term only means that they will have to pay for it later, as the labour component cost of a brake job is generally higher than the cost of the parts themselves. Having to change those lower-cost parts more frequently only leads to a higher expenditure long-term, not to mention that brakes are a safety-related item and the braking ability on a lower-cost set only dictates that it will not perform as well as a premium would.” “Technicians want to be confident that the products they install are going to provide the safety, performance, and reliability their customers need and expect. Knowing that the brake pads they buy were developed by a leading global OEM brake friction supplier provides this confidence. Our company is on the leading edge of braking technology, designing friction materials for the vehicles of the future. This offers a compelling value proposition for the counter professional, professional service provider, and above all, the consumer, who depends on our industry to help keep them safe behind the wheel,” adds Battershell. “I think the technician still recognizes the difference in quality between premium, mid-grade, and economy, and they demand a premium product for certain vehicles and their customers that want low dust and quiet braking while still providing ultimate braking performance. The used car dealers will always gravitate towards the economy pads, and the technician has the option, where necessary, to compete for the brake job with a price-conscious consumer,” says Dean Weber of ProForce Automotive. So, which brake component is showing the strongest sales growth? “Typically in the past, brake rotors were replaced during every second brake service. Now that OEMs are reducing the weight and size of brake components, including rotors, to meet the ever-stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements, many rotors at the first brake job are at or very near the discard thickness and can’t be turned. We are seeing a higher frequency of rotors being replaced at every brake job. This is mainly due to the lower price of rotors versus the cost to turn the rotor on a brake lathe,” explains Heffelfinger. “Premium friction and coated rotor and drum sales are at the sales forefront at Agna Brakes. Our education and informative clinics, advertising and sales material, and most importantly, overall passion towards our beliefs in providing safe quality products at fair price points, are prevalent in every conversation we have at every level of the distribution chain. Customers just looking to do a pad slap to get a vehicle back on the road are just not our customers,” explains Cherry. “I would say the brake component showing the largest spike in demand is Geomet fully coated premium rotors. The consumer realizes that for a small upgrade in price they can have a rotor that resists rusting and gives an enhanced appearance to the open wheel. The rotor will also offer longer life and improved braking performance,” adds Weber. “The Geomet coated rotors are popular,” agrees Zhao. “The Ultra Plus Police Rotors, which we pair up with our ceramic brake pads and supply to the police force, are also a big seller.” With the wide selection of premium aftermarket brands of brake rotors and pads available to jobbers, the opportunity for continued sales growth in this category is very promising.