For some time, the flat wiper blade has dominated the market driven by the need for improved product quality, comfort and aesthetics.  Matthew Beecham reports on the implications for the aftermarket.

Flat wiper blades are certainly becoming increasingly common as an executive from Federal Mogul told us:  “If you look at, say, the top 20 cars sold in Europe, over 90% come equipped with flat blades.  Whereas in the early days, flat blades were the preserve of the premium car segment, today you will find them on a Ford Fiesta and Fiat 500.  So all mainstream European car manufacturers are fitting flat blades nowadays and they are going into Japanese models, too.”

“The evolution of the wiping market for flat blades is increasing,” added an executive from Valeo.  “From an OE perspective, the technology is very complex. The blade needs very specific parts because of its curvature of design and need to stick to the windscreen at all speeds.”

In theory, the wiper blade is a service replacement item. However, the truth is that vehicle owners often wait until the product is disintegrating before replacing it. Valeo has been doing its bit to raise awareness of the dangers of worn-out blades and urging motorists to replace them as appropriate.  Valeo executives told us: “Valeo launched its exclusive wear indicator in 1998. This indicator appears on the Valeo Silencio range as well as other premium wiper blade ranges of Valeo. The wear indicator is coated with UV paint which reacts to the weather, i.e. it turns from black to yellow over a period of eight to 15 months to indicate to the consumer that the blade is worn and they need to replace it.”

Research indicates that 60% of the drivers who do not install their own wiper blades cite the confusing assortment of adaptors that accompany most replacement blades as the reason.  Simply working out how to remove the old blade can be a trying experience.  In many cases, consumers become frustrated and use force to pry off the blade thereby damaging the hardware.

“If you're looking at the wiper hook arm connections, sometimes they can be very fiddly, especially when you can't lift the blade right off the windscreen,” an executive from Federal Mogul told us.  “But generally speaking, flat blades are relatively easy to fit.  The connection involves a clip with arrow indicators showing the way in which it should be connected.  Once connected, it is then a relatively simple matter to then attach it to the wiper arm.”

Meanwhile, the rear wiper blades appear to have reached “designer” status these days which also suggests implications for the aftermarket. Valeo executives told us: “While the most important thing for the rear blades is the wiping efficiency, the integration of the wiper blade into the shape of the vehicle is seen as just as important.”

On balance, like shock absorbers, the global wiper blade aftermarket has the potential to grow. It has been suggested, for example, that the European wiper blade market could easily double if motorists realised just what a safety-critical component it is. The key to growth, however, lies in educating the motorist about the dangers of using worn out parts. From the marketing point of view both businesses are, however, still undeveloped and manufacturers have some way to go to change consumer habits.