ATLANTA—NASCAR sells. Just witness the rabid legions that attend National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing events, which have become much more than just cars going around in circles. The organization has its tentacles into lots of other things, such as NASCAR-badged restaurants, rock concert sponsorships, paraphernalia. You name it. And the pull power of the name doesn't appear to be diminishing.
Realizing that, Tenneco Automotive Inc. is hitching a ride on that well-known trademark with a new ``Reflex'' line of Monroe-brand shock absorbers that'll proudly wear the NASCAR logo on the product and its packaging.
The Lake Forest, Ill.-based manufacturer and marketer of ride control and emission control products and systems unveiled the product to the trade and automotive press Sept. 28 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, one of many NASCAR racing venues and home to the ``Richard Petty Driving Experience,'' a racing school for NASCAR wannabe's who, for that day at least, included some of the journalists.
On a gray day that progressed from high humidity to an almost blinding downpour, Tenneco executives touted the ``innovative valving design'' of the new shocks.
Journalists then climbed into identical Jeep Cherokees—one with Reflex shocks, the other with the original-equipment variety. They tested such vehicle dynamics as roll, pitch and yaw while plying a sopping-wet obstacle course in a parking lot outside the ritzy, high-priced condominiums that overlook the D-shaped speedway.
Tenneco—which claims to produce 50 percent of all shock absorbers and three of every 10 mufflers sold in the worldwide aftermarket—said Reflex is the next generation of its dependable Sensa-Trac line of Monroe shocks.
Sensa-Trac ``is still a great product—head and shoulders above all the other products out there, except for Reflex, and will continue to be a major part of our product line,'' a Tenneco official said.
Normally, the driver of a vehicle with firm shocks feels every bump in the road, so ride quality and comfort are degraded by the constant vibration throughout the vehicle, Tenneco noted in a press release.
The Reflex line features valving that switches instantly from firm to soft damping when a bump is encountered—that is, within 15 milliseconds when an impact or acceleration of 1.5 g's is experienced.
The more exposure to uneven road surfaces, the more active the valve becomes, opening the moment a large bump is encountered and closing immediately after absorbing the impact, then returning the shock to its original calibration setting, according to Tenneco. So instead of sideways ``darting,'' a vehicle maintains tire-to-road stability.
Kevin Swint, director of engineering, aftermarket products, who oversees the company's Monroe and Walker lines, said that with Reflex, Tenneco wants to promote a ``technology-driven'' message. He called it a ``premium-differentiated product in the marketplace.''
The new shock's technology is integrated into the unit rather than electronic, he noted, so it doesn't have to wait for a signal from the road condition, input that into a module, then send it to a shock or ride control system.
Reflex shocks feature nitro-carbonized piston rods with micro-finished surfaces for smooth operation and positive sealing, Tenneco said. A Fluon-banded piston made with Teflon and glass-reinforced fibers reduces sliding friction, increases product life and improves sealing, while nitrogen gas charged to 150 psi helps reduce aeration and heat fade.
Tenneco contends that, during testing, a vehicle outfitted with Reflex shocks showed a 12-percent decrease in vehicle body roll during a J-turn maneuver, and an 18-percent reduction in vehicle pitch during ABS brake testing, when compared with a vehicle equipped with OE shock absorbers.
The first original-equipment application to use the Reflex technology and Monroe name is the Nissan Ultima truck, and Tenneco is also talking with other OEMs.
``The OE's have gone so far to take ride harshness out of the truck side and make them more like passenger cars,'' Mr. Swint said. ``With these new shocks, we're giving back to truck owners more control of their vehicle.''
Tenneco is first rolling out the Reflex line for trucks, with a launch for passenger cars set for next June.
Reflex's initial breadth of coverage will be 54 SKUs, which translates to 65-68 percent of vehicle models 1990 and above. Looked at another way, that is 75 percent of the sales base of Sensa-Trac, which has 98-percent market coverage, a Tenneco official said.
The new product's price, Mr. Swint said, will be 3.5 percent above that of Sensa-Trac, putting Reflex in broad-market coverage in order to compete.
Coinciding with the product's introduction at the upcoming Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week shows in Las Vegas, a media advertising campaign commences in November in trade publications and will feature the product's tie-in to NASCAR.
Though officials were a bit sketchy about complete launch plans, they said Tenneco will sponsor installer promotions, and a TV ad blitz will begin next March.