Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2003   by Dennis Mellersh

Smart Selling Wins Out in Light Truck Brake Sales

If you set up an intelligence bell curve for the people working in the North American automotive sector, the smart end of the scale would probably have an over-preponderance of people involved in the automotive aftermarket.

Whether it is at the wholesale, manufacturer, or distributor levels, to be successful in the aftermarket you need to be resourceful, forward thinking, flexible, responsive to change, and also be able to think of six things at once. You must not only have the ability to respond to constantly changing trends, but in many cases, you must also be able to predict those trends. In the aftermarket it helps to be clairvoyant.

Who in their wildest forecasts 10 years ago would have anticipated that light trucks would today represent almost 50% of new vehicle sales and subsequently, 50% of the aftermarket? Yet despite the exponential growth of the light truck segment, the aftermarket has responded well to the need for quality replacement brake parts.

A number of issues are involved in the light truck brake market:

At only five to 10-years-old, this is a relatively new and as yet not fully explored component of the aftermarket

It is a logical market for value-added, higher margin sales

As is happening with many other aftermarket parts, OE brake specifications are becoming more and more platform-specific

Brake recommendations are contingent upon the use of the vehicle; it is important to understand the needs of drivers

There are a wide variety of materials/formulations available for various applications

The DIY market is largely static or declining because of vehicle complexity and other factors

Attending training and technical seminars is critical

The already large variety of light truck models continues to proliferate

This is anything but a “one-size-fits-all” market and being able to recommend the right parts takes effort

Logic governs parts replacement, starting with the fact that these vehicles generally do require higher-demand types of replacement materials

Ceramics are coming on stronger as OE-installed

Noise reduction and heat dissipation are two key market drivers

Ian Braunstein of Satisfied Brakes says, “The light truck segment is without a doubt the fastest growing category in the aftermarket, and with this comes the need for vehicle-specific replacement products. Generally speaking, light trucks will require a higher-demand type of replacement brake materials than would passenger cars. This is particularly true with certain makes and models.

“A lot of light trucks are now coming from the OEs with ceramic brakes,” he says. “We have developed a line, Pro Ceramic, for this market, which are quality, true ceramics that have been proven in the marketplace for two years. Ceramics do possess certain characteristics, which, in some cases, can be problem solvers in the brake aftermarket. They are particularly good for solving noise and dust issues. In addition, certain quality ceramics can handle heat and maintain a consistent friction coefficient under various temperature ranges.” Braunstein says.

Looking at the general growth in the light truck aftermarket, Brian Moffatt, marketing manager, Inroble, says, “The primary reason for the increased emphasis on light truck brake components is a function of the increase in the number of these vehicles on the road.”

Brian Fleming of Dana Brake and Chassis notes, “In 1985, 26% of new vehicle sales were in the light truck category, compared to today’s sales which are reaching almost half of all new vehicle sales. This data, coupled with the fact that many of the service decision makers driving these vehicles are women, has skewed our marketing efforts to selling safety, quality, and peace of mind as our primary unique selling proposition.”

Product specificity is becoming more and more a factor in the replacement market for light trucks, Fleming says. “With today’s sophisticated designs and inherent lighter materials, we follow the specifications that the OE vehicle manufacturer outlines for each specific platform. We design, test, and improve, where necessary, specific products that perform exceptionally well under any driving conditions, from severe off-road to a simple trip to the supermarket. Depending on use, such as whether it is commercial or passenger transportation, we offer a variety of full-cast, composite, and damped iron rotors and several formulations of organic, semi-metallic, metallic and ceramic disc pads that are consistent with current federal safety standards.”

Fleming says that the DIY market, which for a time was synonymous with the light truck, is hampered by several factors. “The fact that today’s vehicles are more complex often limits the DIY consumer to sourcing the part then taking it somewhere to have it installed. Complex ABS systems, electronic components, exotic materials such as ceramic friction, and damped iron rotors are not inexpensive items, and as such are not usually replaced by the faint-of-heart.”

Likewise, these complexities require some commitment from jobbers. “Jobbers must take advantage of the aftermarket manufacturer’s training and technical seminars, which are designed to inform and educate their counter staff and their installers on the intricacies of today’s braking systems. What comes off the vehicle must go back on the vehicle in order to meet the safety and performance standards the customer expects and deserves. Selling on price or assuming that the customer wants something less than the best products available for their safety and comfort is not selling the need,” Fleming says.

The varying uses of light trucks by their owners and drivers is one of the paramount market drivers in the view of Jack McGrail, director, product management brake products, Robert Bosch Corporation, automotive group. “There is a tremendous variety of light trucks, from minivans to SUVs to pickups, and from compacts to three-quarter and one-ton full-size trucks. The [braking] needs of each driver will vary with how they use their light truck and what they expect from it. For example, drivers who use their full-size SUV to transport their family will have much different needs and expectations than a driver who uses that same model SUV for towing a boat or trailer.”

McGrail is emphatic that product recommendations must be tailored to the needs of individual light truck drivers and then match these needs to the proper brake pads. “One size will definitely not fit all. For example, a person who drives a compact SUV around town and is concerned about reduced noise and lower-dusting brake pads would most likely prefer ceramic brake pads. On the other hand, a person who drives a half-ton pickup that tows a boat would probably prefer semi-metallic pads because these types of pads will better handle the higher heat generated during braking.”

The growth in the light truck brake aftermarket will continue, in the opinion of Pete Murnen, marketing director, friction products, Federal-Mogul. “Many of F-M’s top selling disc pads and shoes are SUV and light truck applications. This wasn’t the case five to 10 years ago. Now that the Asian and European automakers are weighing in with their versions of these vehicle types, the aftermarket should see an increase in the popularity of brake parts for these vehicles as they reach their initial service cycle.” Murnen says that OE design factors can increase brake parts sales. The OEs are taking weight out of the braking systems, which, in many light truck applications, ultimately causes higher heat levels which in turn wears out the friction material at a faster rate.

Observing that the light truck segment lends itself to niche product lines, Murnen says that many aftermarket suppliers have been successful in marketing niche products for trucks, whereas with others such as Wagner ThermoQuiet, one complete line is offered that covers all categories with application-specific friction. “The fleet usage of many of these vehicles also lends itself to niche marketing categories such as Wagner Severe Duty,” Murnen says. The challenge in all of this
for aftermarket product engineers, Murnen comments, lies in developing friction formulations that perform well. “But the biggest challenge by far is eliminating noise in conjunction with offering longevity and stopping power. Designing friction products that deliver all three can be tough but we’ve been pretty successful in that.”

Looking at evolving trends, Murnen sees a challenge for aftermarket suppliers with the increased use of ceramics at the OE level. “With the evolution of ceramic-based formulations that are available to OE manufacturers, there has been an increased specification of these products on front applications of SUVs and light trucks. The challenge for the aftermarket suppliers is to be able to produce these formulations at a similar performance level for sale into the aftermarket.”

Bill Taylor, brake product manager at ZF Zachs NA, the North American supplier of Mintex brake products, provided Jobber News with some interesting views of the light truck brake market and commented on some potential problems. Noting that the fleet market is a big consumer of light trucks, Taylor says, “Light truck fleet purchases can run the full product line of the manufacturer and these vehicles can be operated under more severe conditions than cars.” Cautioning that while the aggressive nature of “fleet” and/or severe duty brake pads do work better under severe conditions, “they do not work as well under normal braking conditions. Severe duty brake pads typically do not have good ‘cold braking’ properties, but operate well at elevated braking temperatures.”

Taylor says that using such pads on a vehicle whose load-use does not require them can actually lead to problems. “The most common complaint from a consumer who has installed severe duty brake pads when he did not need them is a pulsating brake pedal. After just a few hard stops, the rapid heat build-up and the quick cool-down created by severe duty brake pads can warp the brake rotors, thus causing the pulsating pedal. The driver of the light duty truck may also complain of a hard pedal and increased stopping distances.” Taylor says that counterpeople will often recommend severe duty thinking they are doing the customer a favour. However, a better recommendation would be for premium brake pads when the light truck is only occasionally hauling heavy loads.

Taylor also comments that, “Historically, light truck brake systems have been undersized. This makes it even more important for the customer to replace brake hardware with every brake reline and to replace hydraulic components at the first sign of being subjected to high heat or signs of abnormal pad wear.”

Viewing this replacement market as a whole, there appear to be many opportunities for jobbers to do well, but success will depend upon a strong knowledge-base of the brake products available as well as the ability to make sure that replacement parts recommendations are based on thorough knowledge of the vehicle involved and how the owner is using the vehicle.

Brake Maintenance Tips

Check brake fluid level every 20,000 km or 12 months (Severe Duty 12,000 km)

Check pad and shoe friction material every 20,000 km or 12 months (Severe Duty 12,000 km)

Check drums and rotors every 20,000 km or 12 months (Severe Duty 12,000 km)

Inspect lines, hoses, and other mechanical parts every 20,000 km or 12 months (Severe Duty 12,000 km)

Inspect and lubricate parking brake cables every 20,000 km or 12 months (Severe Duty 12,000 km)

Clean and flush brake fluid every 40,000 to 50,000 km

When doing a complete brake job, refinish rotors and drums, replace brake pads or shoes, inspect clean and repack wheel bearings and replace seals.

With a second reline, recommend replacement of calipers, rotors and hardware, front and rear where required.

Always replace with as close to Original Equipment as possible.

Courtesy of Russ Walker of Dana Brake and Chassis.

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