Continuing just-auto’s review of the wiper blade industry, Matthew Beecham talked with executives of UK-based Astra Automotive about its products and position in the aftermarket.

just-auto: How do you organise your blades in terms of market positioning? i.e. do you have a range of standard blades, premium blades and maybe super-premium blades?

Astra Automotive: We position our wiper blades – Universal and Beam – at the top end of the automotive aftermarket. We consider them to be excellent value with quality and service being key to this strategy. We do not confuse the issue for the motorist by offering variations as we believe the quality of the blades we offer cater for all needs and speak for themselves.

To what extent are the flat blades impacting the aftermarket? i.e. to what extent are these blades attracting interest in the aftermarket as performance upgrades as well as a direct replacement for OE fit parts?

Flat blades (or Beam Blades as we like to call them) are impacting greatly in the aftermarket. More and more car models are being made with flat or beam blades as standard and the benefits they give to the motorist makes them a very credible alternative when the old universal blades need changing.

Rear wiper blades appear to have reached “designer” status these days. In what ways does that impact your business in terms of the aftermarket?

The rear blade “designer status” does have its problems for the aftermarket in so much as motorists seem to ignore the fact that they need to be changed, making sales  generally slow, There are so many model specific types to cope with making stocking problematical.

Fortunately, there are still rear blades that are interchangeable which fit several car models.  Demand remains strong for these blades

Drivers don’t replace their blades as often as they should.  What initiatives have Astra Automotive done to raise awareness and ensure they do?

[We have] designed an easy-to-fit and cost effective beam blade system.  This allows 98% of all cars with normal metal frame wiper blades to upgrade to our Beam Blades.  The solution features one style of beam blade length and a range of adaptors that are supplied separately for car specific models and for universal retrofits, which enable customers to upgrade from framed type wipers to beam blades. This system serves to vastly reduce the unit cost of the Beam Blade, versus OEM equivalents, enabling motorists to benefit from a premium product at an affordable price.

We enforce this message through regular editorials in the press to educate consumers on the importance of replacements.

Do replacement rates vary from one country to the next in Europe? 

In mainland Europe it is standard practice for motorists to regularly check and change their wiper blades twice a year – variations in replacement rates may occur in different countries as the need to change is viewed with different “levels” of importance. Here in the UK it’s the complete reverse, with motorists, generally, only changing their blades when they have worn away past the point of being safe, or at the point the car goes into the garage.   It may well be that here in the UK, blades are viewed as a panic buy, too much hassle to change or only relevant when pointed out a service.

Clearly none of these should be a valid reason not to change; a good quality and efficient wiper blade is a key feature of safe driving; no motorist should argue about this. Nevertheless they do wear and to keep a clear screen they should be changed as they do in Europe every six months.

Are wiper blades still a nuisance to fit? 

There is a perception that wiper blades can be a nuisance to fit but this is maybe linked more to the hassle factor of buying new blades rather than the actual fitting. With a little confidence, it only takes a short amount of time to change; once done the motorist should take on this task when needed and with added enthusiasm.

Have there been any major advances in terms of the use of different materials or coatings on wiper blades?

The beam or flat blades changed the technology of the wiper blade build significantly; these blades retain their appearance over time whereas the universal metal framed blades are prone to deterioration. The components and build of the new beam / flat blades also help greatly in the on-going efficiency of the blade.