Low noise, low dusting and superior stopping ability, along with extended life for rotors are among the reasons why sales of Akebono’s Pro-ACT®, EURO® and Performance® Ultra-Premium aftermarket brake pads continue to grow, according to Ken Selinger, director of aftermarket sales and marketing.

But Selinger, a veteran of the aftermarket brake industry, has quite a bit more to say about the friction lines that continue to grow in popularity.

“There are at least three other key areas why shops are choosing Akebono,” he said. “One, the products work, and that is evidenced by the fact that for over 10 years we’ve had the lowest warranty rates in the industry. I base that from the insight that I’ve gained from working in the industry for 30 years, seeing the warranty rates of other friction manufacturers and being able to compare them. Truly, our warranty rate runs less than 1%, and the most startling thing about that is that it is not only the lowest warranty rate in the industry but that more than 90% of that 1% ends up being our competitors’ products in an Akebono box being returned to us,” he said with a grin. “Basically they are using Akebono to solve the shortfalls of competitive products unilaterally.
 
“The second reason is profitability. At the end of the day shop owners live and die by the profit they can make on every job and how many jobs they can get through the bays. Clearly, Akebono delivers the highest profit dollars per brake job compared to any other brand out there.”
 
He noted that shops have to remember that profit comes from more than one area. The first is the profit from the sale, the service and the installation performed. The second area is from the fact that the product doesn’t come back, costing that shop in time, labor and parts – as well as credibility.
 
“I believe the Akebono brand lends credibility and enhances the service center’s reputation and the customer’s perception about the shop’s capabilities because they are using OEM-level products supplied by Akebono. This creates a very positive halo effect on other services they offer. Keep in mind that approximately over 54% of the new vehicles produced are born with Akebono brake pads. The closest OEM brake friction competitor is in the single digits.”
 
The adage “you get what you pay for” applies to the Akebono brand, Selinger said.
 
“Typically our price points range anywhere from 20% to 40% higher than the competition – which is pretty significant in of itself. In order to receive true OEM quality you need to buy and incorporate an infrastructure that can facilitate OEM quality and repeatability day in and day out. As far as I know, Akebono is the only one that does that consistently. I think the ultimate testimony is that the product works and service providers believe in this product,” Selinger said.

 
Third, he said there is a growing demand, especially in the automotive industry, for products made in the USA.
 
“We are one of the few ‘stand-out’ companies that has remained committed to the U.S. as far as manufacturing and our labor force,” Selinger said. The company’s brake pads are made in what Selinger calls Akebono’s “Friction Manufacturing Center of Excellence” in Glasgow, Ky., about an hour and 20 minutes north of Nashville.
 
“Our manufacturing equipment is proprietary to Akebono,” he said. “Nobody else in the world has access to this. We design the equipment, we build the equipment and we install the equipment ourselves. Our equipment is optimized to meet the stringent requirements of our formulators to achieve the correct chemical reactions. Our friction formulations are so technologically advanced that we choose not to go and buy off-the-shelf manufacturing equipment like our competitors do. They normally buy commonly available equipment and then they try to fit their formulations inside of that. Our approach is the exact opposite. Our formulators design the optimum materials and then the equipment is customized to meet the environmental specification required to optimize the formulations of the friction materials.”
 
Selinger said that there are also a number of professional brake-friction studies within the automotive aftermarket that are forecasting a considerable amount of growth in the ultra-premium category (Akebono’s category) throughout the next 10 years. These studies, along with the company’s current enhanced growth, has encouraged Akebono to make a number of substantial investments to increase the manufacturing footprint within the United States, specifically for the aftermarket, he said.
 
“Demand is growing. It’s coming from all sales channels that we service, which are primarily the traditional and retail sides of the business, and also the export side where there is a huge demand for Akebono products from the Latin American market.
 
“We have received approval from our Japanese board of directors to invest   tens of millions of dollars, specifically targeted at expanding our manufacturing footprint exclusively for the aftermarket,” Selinger said. “Recently, we received approval for another significant investment, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Wilm Uhlenbecker, Akebono’s President and CEO. He is committed to strengthening our efforts in the aftermarket. The first round of equipment arrived at Glasgow in November. The installation of a new fully dedicated aftermarket friction manufacturing lines should be completed and fully validated by the end of this coming January and will increase manufacturing abilities by about 25%, he said.
 
“The reason for the production-demand increase is mostly due to the additional orders from Akebono’s existing customer base,” he said. “About 75% is coming from existing customer business and the other 25% are new incremental business opportunities that are being presented to us.”

 
Another reason for an increase in production equipment is the increasing number of brake-pad applications that are offered. In October alone, Akebono introduced 25 new part numbers to its Pro-ACT, Performance and EURO premium ceramic brake pad lines that expand coverage to more additional late-model domestic, European and Asian vehicles. These introductions expanded total coverage to more than 10.4 million vehicles, Selinger said.
 
Popular models covered by the new applications include: Acura RDX and TLX; Audi A8 Quattro, Cadillac Escalade; Chevrolet Corvette and Silverado; Ford Escape, Fusion, Edge, and Super Duty trucks; GMC Sierra, Honda Accord, Hyundai Genesis, Jeep Cherokee, Lincoln MKZ, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Pathfinder.
 

“Communications with the supply chain is also paramount in this business,” he said. “We pride ourselves in being very close to our WD and retail customers. Literally we are talking with these customers non-stop, multiple times a month, making sure we are keeping our finger on the pulse of what is most important to them and what are the challenges they are facing and how we can deliver a solution. We see that as essential.”
 
Another major concern for Akebono is the environment, and Selinger noted that it was one of the first brake-friction manufacturers to comply with copper-content legislation passed in California, Oregon and Washington state. Other major brands have as well, but Selinger believes that some of the lower-end off-shore brake-friction producers will meet the regulations with formulations that won’t meet the demands of the supply chains, the shops or the motorist.

 
“I believe they will keep up with the legislative demands, but in terms of how they are keeping up, this is very interesting,” he said. We’ve recently benchmarked about 30 different brands of brake pads in the aftermarket that claim to be low copper or copper free. If you recall back in the ’70s and ’80s the dominant materials were semi-metallic formulations. And now if you fast forward, the overwhelming majority of brake sales are what we call ceramic.
 
Akebono’s definition of a ceramic pad mandates that the pads do not have any ferrous metal content. So if you’ve got to get rid of copper, what do people gravitate towards as a replacement? Well they go back to steel. So what we are seeing is that a lot of companies, for lack of a robust technical replacement for copper, are reverting back to technology of the ’70s and ’80s and incorporating ferrous metals – steel fibers and powders – into their formulations, which in our opinion is a major step backward in terms of being able to deliver a true NVH-focused braking solutions that can remotely approximate all the benefits that copper-containing ceramic materials have delivered for the past decade and a half.
 
“We should expect, and I think some companies have already gotten a couple of black eyes.” Selinger said. “Now with a reduction in copper, they’ve augmented them with the addition of ferrous metals of various types and properties, and those materials, unfortunately, often lead to extreme challenges in controlling noise, dust and vibration.
 
Selinger said Akebono had the expertise to keep true ceramic formulations for its Pro-ACT, EURO and Performance without going backwards.
In addition, WDs and retailers like Akebono’s lines because there are virtually no redundicies between the lines.
 
“We are not forcing the WDs to tie up valuable cash flow with redundant inventory. The EURO pad line is unique. You won’t find a EURO pad existing in the Performance line. You won’t find it existing in the Pro-ACT line. The worse-case scenario with our competitor lines is that they have all of these different programs, and a WD ties up a lot of extra cash in redundancy because he’s buying the same pad shape in three different flavors.

 
“We only put out what is the optimum brake solution for each specific vehicle,” he said. “So we are friendlier and more efficient to our most valuable customers – WDs and retailers. Every pad that we deliver is a definitive brake solution in the sense that it has the best-in-class ability to solve for NVH and dust, the two top reasons why brake pads fail to delight customers. It’s the No. 1 cost to shops in terms of warranties and related comebacks. We offer OEM technology in every formulation that we apply to a vehicle.
 
“Akebono is not one size fits all,” he stressed. “We don’t have one material that we put on pickups. We don’t have one material that we put on passenger cars. We’ve got more than 25 unique formulations that are application specific. We are really the only ones out there that have that magnitude of expertise and comprehensive and unique problem-solving solution formulations.
 
For those unfamiliar with the Akebono lines, Pro-ACT provides coverage for domestic and Asian passenger cars and light trucks.
 
“EURO, for European vehicles and was introduced in 2005, already met the reduced copper standards before the industry and state legislatures had defined copper requirements because we anticipated them,” he said. “We are forward thinking and we’re technology leaders. We anticipated where the industry was moving and that’s because we work so closely with the OEMs. We’re working on vehicles that are out to anywhere from 2021-2025 already.”
 
Akebono’s Performance is targeted specifically for rigorous-use vehicles, he said. “Without contradicting myself, there is a small amount of part numbers within the performance line that have the same fit as Pro-ACT but for an important reason. For example, we will have a Pro-ACT for the base Dodge Charger for civilian use, but we offer Performance specifically for a police version. Performance also covers high-performance versions of Camaro, Corvette, Challenger and Mustang and without using semi-met materials.
 
“Our aftermarket Performance pad is so good that it was actually selected by GM in 2012 and13 and used as the brake pad for all the base model corvettes. That’s unprecedented. That’s the quality we offer and that’s why we are the No. 1 benchmark for our competitors who try to emulate us.”
Selinger said Akebono’s goal is to get to the point where Akebono is the shop’s primary choice in friction.

 
“We’re not there yet. Many consumers are ‘financially distracted’ so they are looking at trying to strike a balance in many cases,” he said. “Even though they have access to any Akebono pad in virtually any shop in America, some unfortunately, gravitate to the low-cost or mid-range priced product in order to balance their budget.
 
“The short-sidedness in that approach is that it’s been proven time and time again that because the Akebono pad works best the first time and every time, it ends up over the life of the vehicle, and over the miles driven, being the lower-cost choice for consumers. That’s a challenge that Akebono has to overcome in educating not only the consumer but first and foremost the WD and retailer and even shops.
 
“We are focused on delivering that ultra-premium product consistently and we are starting to make great headway,” Selinger said. “Even though we are not the primary line in most shops, we enjoy significant presence in the percentage of their sales and profits. Consumers are starting to see more value by spending a little more,” he said.

Akebono Brake Corp.
34385 W. Twelve Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI 48331