The debate over using disc brake vs. drum brakes in commercial vehicles (CV) has persisted ever since the former was introduced in the early 1980s in North America. But even as the adoption of disc brakes increased in Europe, uptake lagged in North America. Frost & Sullivan’s research highlights that this is changing; disc brake technology is on track to gain market share across all CV class segments, with ripple effects being felt across the Class 4–8 truck brakes aftermarket as well.
Disc vs. Drum Brakes
Disc brakes offer several advantages. Among these are shorter stopping distances that allow for enhanced safety. This is crucial, especially when a CV is traveling at high speeds, making disc brakes a popular choice for highly demanding or Severe Service applications that emphasize braking performance such as refuse collection trucks, fire and emergency trucks, fuel tankers, cement mixers, tour buses, and semi-tractors.
Other attributes include lightweight, which translates to higher fuel efficiency, greater stability, and lower brake pull. Service, maintenance, and repair are easy and fast; it is simpler to change pads on disc brakes than shoes on drums. For fleets, this translates to crucial time and monetary savings over the lifetime of the vehicle. Such savings also mean that the higher upfront costs of air disc brakes are offset by lower maintenance expenditure. This is reinforced by their longer lifecycle; drum brakes typically experience higher wear and tear and, therefore, require comparatively more frequent parts replacement than disc brake components.
Such benefits notwithstanding, we believe a complete transition is unlikely since the choice of brake type is primarily determined by its intended application. For instance, we project that pneumatic brake drums will remain the standard technology in Class 8 heavy-duty (HD) CVs over the next 4-5 years because of their robustness.
Air Disc Brakes Gaining Prominence
Driven by the growing penetration of disc brake-technology, Frost & Sullivan forecasts revenues of $1.20 billion for the North American Class 4-8 truck brakes aftermarket by 2026. Incremental growth in the number of vehicles in operation (VIO), together with pandemic-induced reductions in commercial activity and traffic congestion will impact brake component aftermarket unit shipments. Accordingly, our research projects only marginal unit shipment growth of 0.6% CAGR from 2019 to 2026.
In 2019, HD vehicles accounted for a 62.8% share of the aftermarket. The boom in e-commerce and the need for faster deliveries means that the medium-duty (MD) segment, especially Class 4 and 5 trucks, will experience high VIO growth. Hydraulic brake drum technology will cede ground to disc brake systems in the MD vehicle segment due to performance disadvantages. Meanwhile, fleets will exhibit a preference for brake drums on the drive axle, even as penetration rates of air disc brakes (ADB) in the steer axle increase.
Our research shows that average manufacturer-level prices for most key brake components in the aftermarket will rise continuously over the next 4-5 years due to higher raw material and manufacturing costs as well as technical advances. ADB will receive a fillip from economies of scale and market maturity resulting in an anticipated drop of 0.8% in average manufacturer-level prices. This will make them more accessible to fleets and increase their competitiveness from a cost perspective.
Currently, well-established participants account for more than a 60% share in each product category of the mature North American brake components aftermarket. They will need to contend with the high price sensitivity of fleets and low-cost imports.
Innovation Linked to Electric and Autonomous Technology Trends
What’s next for the mature truck brakes market? We expect product innovation – whether in terms of improved durability (heat resistance and mechanical integrity) or superior stopping performance – to animate the market. We also anticipate new usage models like truck-as-a-service, truck rental, leasing strategies, and OEM service programs to directly impact aftermarket maintenance and services.
Two big trends that we foresee affecting the market are electrification and autonomy. Electrification will underline the need for trucks with regenerative braking capabilities as well as more lightweight braking components to offset the increased weight of the batteries. Progressively more complex trucks will compel Tier I brake suppliers to ensure that their products are fully compatible with all active safety systems and, eventually, with autonomous truck standards.
Electric and autonomous technology trends will promote the development of enhanced, electronically enabled braking systems in CVs. These trends will also shine the spotlight on ADB as the preferred brakes of the future.
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