Big Brake Packages Gaining Ground
It may seem incongruous for a segment of the aftermarket built on the desires of a customer to go faster, but brake upgrades are gaining more attention from distributors and consumers alike.
As anyone who has been selling performance products knows, the increasing complexity of engine systems and the work needed to increase performance output have squeezed that market to some degree. While dedicated, hard-core performance enthusiasts still exist in significant numbers, aftermarket suppliers of engine programmers and the like have closed the comfort gap with the consumer considerably, and options such as performance exhaust systems and wheel and tire packages have helped fill the void.
And, as wheel and tire packages have grown in size–20-inch wheels on a passenger car were unheard of only a few years ago–so has the desire by consumers to fill that space with an equally attractive brake rotor and caliper.
According to feedback at the retail level, the demand for the big brake packages has been leaning more to the European high end and Japanese, although there is no hard and fast rule. Everything from street rods to classic muscle cars is being fitted with bigger brake packages to provide increased braking performance and to fill out those larger wheels.
A recent visit to the Performance World Car Show in Toronto proves this point. From classic muscle cars to new performance and street rods, traditional street rod builders like legendary Canadian builder Horton Inc. have found a home for brake upgrades with their customers.
The show floor was scattered with a variety of hot rods, street rods, modest restorations, and full-tilt new builds, many sporting brake upgrades and big brake kits.
We are just getting into the big brake kits,” says Jason Hathaway of OE Quality Friction. Hathaway says that there are few caveats for customers looking to add size to the big brake kit, or perform any brake upgrade for that matter. One of these is to ensure that they have the appropriate friction for their application, not necessarily the most aggressive.
“They want everything they can get for the racetrack, but also something they can get to work with. Our street/track pad is for that application. It’s hard to get a low-dust, low-noise, high-heat pad.”
Though its product offering is in development for more applications, Hathaway says that the formulation that is working best in its Vortex Street/Track (VST) line falls somewhere between the company’s semi-met and applications for heavy-duty trucks. “We have taken a few ingredients out to save a little dusting and to keep the customer on the street and on the track.”
One of the major areas of customer potential is the SUV and light truck owner who has installed, or is about to install, larger wheel and tire packages. With sizes moving well into the 20-plus inch range and extremely open styles that leave little to the imagination, big brake packages are often desired for cosmetic reasons, but there’s more to it than that, says Ralph Ruzzi, Canadian zone director for Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc.
“While the first person who buys is looking for something that looks nice, the second person is the one who buys the big wheels and tires and discovers that the braking isn’t what it used to be.”
Some of these new wheel and tire packages can add significant weight to a vehicle, but more important to understand, says Ruzzi, is where that weight is located.
“All that added weight is further away from the centre. It may not seem much, but at 100 kmh, the centrifugal force is much greater.”
Slowing that mass down can take considerably more brake torque than was engineered into the stock brake system. Hence the advent of big brake kits from manufactures that offer vehicle owners significant upgrades in braking performance.
Of course all of this comes at a price. Wheel and tire packages can run the consumer $2,000 and up, with front brake kits alone surpassing this number.
While the uninitiated may swallow hard at the prospect of a customer dropping more than $5,000 on wheels, tires, and a brake upgrade, Ruzzi says that this is precisely what is going on. And, he says, there is a trend back to high quality parts and systems too.
“If there is one trend, if I can call it that, it is people going to higher-quality products, and higher-quality brands.”
And that has to be good news for anybody in the business of selling performance parts.
Bigger Horsepower: Changing Realities
In February 2009, researcher Frost & Sullivan reviewed the performance industry going forward.
Research analyst Matt Scruggs noted several opportunities, and a handful of barriers, that remain relevant.
Aftermarket engine performance products can be classified into three main categories: bolt-on performance enhancements, electronic engine modifications, and forced induction (FI) setups.
Bolt-on performance products include air filters, cold-air/short ram/ram air intakes, intake manifolds, exhaust headers, mufflers, cat-back and no-cat exhaust systems, adjustable cam gears, camshafts, under-drive pulleys, lightened flywheels, etc. These are the simplest and most affordable performance upgrades, and are often starting points which introduce performance tuning to beginning enthusiasts. The challenge for manufacturers is that these products are priced comparatively low, challenging market revenues. However, modern vehicles typically respond very well to these products, as entry-level vehicles are typically factory-equipped for low emissions, minimal fuel consumption, and quiet operation, choices which hinder the stock engine’s output. Thus, bolt-on products can take advantage of the “free” horsepower included, but not utilized, in the engine’s design.
Forced induction products are a different matter. This category consists of turbocharger kits, supercharger kits, and nitrous oxide injection kits.
When this market took off in the 1990s, many vehicles in the sub-$20,000 category came equipped with engines that were ludicrously overbuilt, and thus perfect for performance tuning. The engines were simple and straightforward to modify, with only basic electronic engine controls and the ability to re-flash the engine control module (ECM) without facing copyright litigation. Some examples include Toyota’s 1JZ and 2JZ engines, Mitsubishi’s 4G63, Mazda’s 13B, Nissan’s SR20 andVG30, Honda’s B-series, etc.
Today’s enthusiasts have fewer choices for suitable engines. GM’s Ecotec, Honda’s K-series, Mitsubishi’s 4B11, and Ford/Mazda’s Duratec 993/MZR pretty much round off the list. Further complicating the situation is the lack of used vehicles in good condition that are equipped with suitable engines for FI tuning.
Electronic engine control modifications are necessary for the output of significantly higher power levels in a vehicle’s engine. Stock ECMs can usually adapt to minor changes from bolt-on parts, but FI products must use some type of electronic modification to ensure engine durability. These products rely on the vehicle’s sensors to provide data to control outputs such as variable cam timing, fuel injector duty cycle, and spark timing. These products can either alter sensor inputs to “fool” the stock ECM into making the proper calculations, alter the output from the ECM to the fuel injectors or spark plugs, or completely bypass the stock ECM and use a stand-alone system.
Because mechanical performance adjustments are impossible on many modern engines, these products will remain viable tuning answers; unfortunately, not many enthusiasts are likely to ask the question in the first place.
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