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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Carbon Ceramic Brakes for the everyday vehicle

STEZZANO, Italy — Brembo, the undisputed king of butt-kicking brakes, recently cut a deal to take over all of a joint venture it had with Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG which since 2004 had designed, developed and manufactured carbon-ceramic brake discs. Carbon-ceramic is the almost magic material that produces tremendously strong, virtually fade-free brakes.

These are all the rage for high-dollar sports cars and mega-sedans — and to now they've been as scary-expensive as the cars they bring to a halt: like 100 times the price of a standard $25 brake disc.

But that's the intrigue with the latest Brembo deal. In buying the 50 percent of Brembo Ceramic Brake Systems it didn't own, company chairman Alberto Bombassei insinuates that in addition to doubling capacity to make the things, it will perhaps help Brembo to start cutting the price of carbon-ceramic rotors.

"Carbon-ceramic discs technology is now ready to be applied on a wider scale, after the intense development performed with Daimler," said Bombassei. A press release stated, "R&D investments will continue with a view to launch a new product next year, with features suitable for wider scale applications."

In the auto biz, "wider-scale applications" usually is code for "less expensive." We're betting Brembo is working on ways to bring mass-production techniques to the manufacture of the carbon-ceramic rotors, which to now have been essentially hand-made in an extremely time-intensive process.

In some senses, access to the wonders of carbon-ceramic brakes already has become less expensive. Mercedes, which might or might not be able to claim being the first to introduce carbon-ceramic brakes for a production car with its CL55 AMG F1 Limited Edition in 2000, later that year charged $5,650 for the brakes as an option on the S55 AMG and CL55 AMG. But now, Brembo-made carbon-ceramic brake rotors are standard equipment on the $104,000 Corvette ZR1.

And although no Ferrari is cheap, the company said last year it would be the first automaker to make carbon-ceramic brakes standard on all its cars.

Apart from their otherworldly performance, carbon-ceramic brakes typically reduce weight at each wheel by 50 percent compared with a conventional, heavy iron brake disc. And maintenance cost will be gleefully reduced: for the optional carbon-ceramic brakes on the 2009 RS 6, for example, Audi guarantees a service life of 190,000 miles.

Inside Line says: Maybe you won't be seeing carbon-ceramic brakes on Malibus just yet, but Brembo's trying to make the technology more affordable — and more mainstream. We'll see what it's up to next year.


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