Shock absorber manufacturers continue to educate the motorist about the dangers of using worn out dampers in an effort to lift sales in an increasingly competitive aftermarket.  Matthew Beecham reports.

On the OE side of the business, there have been some advances made to shock absorbers which may be referred to as trends.  To improve ride comfort without adding to cost, manufacturers are creating a longer shock absorber movement.  Another clear trend in the shocks sector is integrating more and more electronics.

Electronic dampers allow a large range between maximum and minimum damping levels and adjust instantly to ensure ride comfort and firm vehicle control. By integrating mechanical and electronic functions within a vehicle, automakers improve handling and reduce costs.  Such technology can also help lift revenues for manufacturers. 

While shock absorber technology is becoming more and more important in the OE world, it is increasingly perceived as a commodity in the aftermarket. Yet the shock absorber continues to play an ever more important role in a new vehicle, especially given the increasing fitment of electronic devices like ABS and ESP.

Meanwhile, longer life shocks clearly having an impact on aftermarket volumes. “Product quality is getting better but having said that aftermarket demand for shock absorbers really should be a lot higher than what it is in terms of worn units on vehicles,” said Mike Howarth, vice president of KYB Europe Headquarters.  “So there is always more to go for.  We continue to see good volumes in the Eastern European aftermarket due to increasing vehicle sales and the poor quality of roads in those countries. So that offsets it a little bit.”

Tenneco believes that too few drivers are aware of the dangers of worn out shock absorbers.  Tests have shown that driving with 50% worn shocks can increase emergency braking by 2.6 metres.  In addition, worn shock absorbers can increase a driver’s reaction time by up to 26%, cause uneven headlights – which can dazzle oncoming drivers – increase the risk of the vehicle aquaplaning by nearly 10% and can cause the vehicle to lose control when cornering or caught in a cross wind. 

In an effort to raise awareness amongst motorists about the dangers of worn-out shocks, KYB has led a number of initiatives over the years. “We started a programme when I was in the US for the aftermarket called Ride Control Solutions to do exactly that, and it produced some results,” said Howarth.  “But the difficulty is that it takes a lot of effort and you are basically looking to change behaviour in garages.  Yet changing human behaviour takes a lot of time and you have to keep reinforcing it.  We are trying to transpose that same Ride Control Solutions in Europe but it's proving tricky.”

Tenneco Automotive executives added: “Monroe has been always very active in terms of educating the market.  All our advertisements, promotions and campaigns focus on showing the risks of driving with worn-out shock absorbers as well as the importance of a regular safety check of the suspension system. In 2005, Tenneco (Monroe) designed a complete training programme called 4T (Tenneco Train The Trainers). 4T is a tailor-made training programme designed to installers and technicians, with the aim of ensuring that all professionals dedicated to the suspension business receive the right information to do their job.”

Despite initiatives underway to remind drivers to replace their shocks on a regular basis, there are still national differences across Europe alone. “There are big differences between all the European markets we are present in, as some have suffered more from the economical crisis than others,” Tenneco Automotive executives told us.  “Also by tradition there are some differences, as unfortunately we see that in some markets the motorists have the intention to replace shocks absorbers per unit, something we absolutely cannot defend. Especially Germany but also France however are playing a role model, as we see that shock absorbers are mainly replaced in pairs.”

While it is clear that certain national differences in driver attitude to replacing shock absorbers exist, we believe that Germans have different driving expectations to other Europeans.  Most German manufacturers like Audi and BMW therefore differentiate themselves from other manufacturers through high performance ride control. However, they are putting more emphasis on ride comfort. Other manufacturers are realising that if they really want to gain new customers then they can achieve that by offering a better ride.  Yet in markets like the US, France or Japan, ride performance is not a significant criteria of differentiation.

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