Akebono Corp. has introduced a line of price-competitive ceramic brake friction pads aimed directly at the replacement market, a target it has decided to pursue with increased vigor.
Called Akebono Premium Disc Brake Pads, the new friction line evolved from the company's Import Specialist Disc line of ceramic materials and is positioned as a lower-priced alternative to the company's ProAct OE-spec, ultra-premium ceramic disc pads, company officials said.
The new Premium line is offered in two formulations, one for passenger cars and one for light trucks and sport-utility vehicles and is currently available in 117 part numbers for late model domestic and import vehicles.
The addition of the Premium brand of brake pads is part of Akebono's push to gain a greater share of the replacement friction market.
While the U.S. unit of Japan's Akebono Brake Industry Co. Ltd. has become a leading supplier of brake products to vehicle manufacturers, holding a 26.8-percent market share in disc brake pads, it has not established the same stronghold in the aftermarket.
But that is starting to change, several company executives told Tire Business.
In the last three years, Akebono's replacement friction business, which includes brake pads and calipers, has grown by 200 percent annually, the company claims, to the point where replacement revenue now makes up about 7 to 8 percent of its $578 million in North American sales.
``And we're still doing triple-digit increases this year,'' said Randy Mordue, director of Akebono's aftermarket division.
Akebono said its new Premium brake pads are designed using the company's ceramic friction technology and feature formulations with up to 20 separate raw materials.
Compared with traditional pads, the Premium ceramic pads feature improved durability; superior noise, fade and recovery performance; reduced rotor wear; and less wheel dusting, the company said.
``Our product is solving professional technician's issues as to noise, vibration and harshness and, as a result of that, we continue to grow our business with these technicians,'' Mr. Mordue said.
In chasing aftermarket sales, Mr. Mordue said Akebono is ``targeting the professional technician, of which the tire business community and the muffler community are a large part.''
The firm also has its eye on the tuner market and plans to debut a performance line of brake pads geared to this segment, with initial offerings in foreign-vehicle applications and later for domestic vehicles.
``These will be unique formulations targeted at a very specific range of vehicles,'' said Kenneth Selinger, marketing and product development manager, aftermarket and OES brake division.
``Looking at that targeted audience, one of the things we see is that there are a lot of low-tech friction providers there who are merely achieving an adequate level of performance and value,'' he continued. ``We feel we can enter this market in a very strong position and definitely deliver an optimum level of performance and value.''
Akebono also is looking at establishing, in 2005, an installer training program on specific ceramic technology, said Laura Sullivan, brand manager, aftermarket division. The program would cover ``the differences between true ceramics and pseudo ceramics and other forms of brake friction materials out there,'' she said.
Akebono Brake was founded in Japan in 1929 and launched U.S. brake sales in 1980. The company has five facilities in the U.S., including the headquarters and tech center in Farmington Hills. U.S. production began in 1986.
The company's four U.S. manufacturing facilities are all in Kentucky. They include Ambrake Corp., a joint venture with Delphi Corp. in Elizabethtown and Amak Brake L.L.C., a joint venture with Japan's Itochu International Inc., based in Glasgow, both of which produce OE friction material.
The firm also has two wholly-owned facilities: Amtec Brake L.L.C., an aftermarket brake pad manufacturing plant in Springfield, and ARC Brake L.L.C., a service and parts operation and a caliper remanufacturing and packaging facility in Munfordville.
Worldwide, Akebono posted sales of $1.46 billion in 2003.