March 23, 2017 1:00 PM, EDT

Wabco Adds Air Disc Brakes to North American Manufacturing

Seeks to Expand Presence Beyond Traditional Joint Ventures
Morrison by Joseph Terry/TT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Belgium-based Wabco Holdings is trying to increase its direct presence in North America’s commercial vehicle market beyond its traditional joint ventures, with the most visible evidence a $20 million plant expansion to make air disc brakes for trucks and trailers in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Jon Morrison, Wabco’s president for the Americas, said his company wants to compete more directly with Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems in selling disc brakes, active safety systems, air-handling components and more. In a March 23 interview here at the Mid-America Trucking Show, he said the new plant can crank out a maximum of 200,000 brakes a year and has room to increase scale over time.

“Over the past five years we’ve been very active in enabling our North American customers to connect,” Morrison said while sitting in a display trailer outfitted with Wabco devices.

Wabco’s best known joint venture is with Meritor Inc., the Meritor Wabco unit Morrison used to run that makes the OnGuard active safety system. Wabco also does work with Cummins Inc. and Hendrickson.

He said Wabco is keeping the joint ventures but also increasing its efforts to sell to truck and trailer makers.

The South Carolina facility is the larger successor to a plant that made compressors for air brakes. The new 145,000 square-foot location now makes compressors and air discs.

Morrison said North Charleston is not a leap-of-faith decision but a calculation that use of air discs will accelerate in North America.

“We believe demand is going up for air disc brakes here,” Morrison said, because of their longer service intervals, compared with drum brakes, their superior operational performance and the fact that they mesh better with collision-mitigation, autonomous assistance and platooning systems that are gaining interest.

He said drum brake technology is now 100 years old, so Wabco is “trying to change the paradigm.”

Morrison touted his company’s patented single-piston design, compared with the more traditional double-piston approach. He said it saves about 10 pounds per wheelend, or up to 100 pounds per tractor-trailer.

Morrison said Wabco has more than 5 million air disc brakes in operation now, mainly in Europe.

The reason drum systems are still around is initial cost. They are much cheaper than air discs, which make up the difference over time due to greater durability.

“The upfront cost for air discs is higher. Currently the payback period is four years, but we want to get that down to two,” Morrison said.

As for the display trailer, it includes air discs and AutoTail, an aerodynamic trailer tail that can deploy and retract automatically. That device made its debut in February.

Also included were a tire-monitoring system and automatic slack adjusters for brakes.