A new agreement with Meritor to create Fleetrite brake components exclusively for all Navistar applications, including IC Bus school buses, should answer any concerns customers have on the origin of the brake shoes or their quality, Navistar representatives told School Transportation News.
Offering Fleetrite is nothing new for Navistar, but Dan Simnick, senior product manager for all Navistar wheel-end brake offerings, said the company had failed to capitalize on brand equity and communicating it to customers. He referred to Meritor as “the 800-pound gorilla in the heavy-duty brake friction business.”
“We have quite a few customers that are very brand preferential. Brakes being obviously a very important safety item, the manufacturer is always at the top of everyone’s mind when they ask who makes a product,” he said. “We were kind of hiding a saleable feature by saying this is a Fleetrite shoe, but then the next question out of (a customer’s) mouth would be, ‘Well, who makes this shoe for you?’”
All new IC Bus models, except those operating hydraulic or air disc brakes, are targets for the Fleetrite EG standard and MG premium brakes shoe lining from Meritor. The part numbers changed slightly to differentiate from other Fleetrite parts with an "M" added to the end to indicate the co-branding. Meritor is also labeling “Fleetrite Manufactured by Meritor” on this particular Navistar product line going forward.
“If you a dual dealer or bus-only dealer and you are selling Fleetrite, and you have a customer with concerns about origin of shoes or the quality of the product, now I think those questions will be easily addressed by having the co-branding,” Simnick said.
Greg Foss, director of strategic product growth at Navistar, said the co-branding partnerships offers a “different story” than with an unbranded “white box” product that he said can reduce quality in customers’ eyes. Additionally, private labeling the Fleetrite product was costing Navistar more money in the long run, with those costs passed along to customers.
“When you go and set up a private label program, the idea is that you want to hide or you cloak who that provider is. But this was actually a more costly endeavor,” he added. “By co-branding, which I believe we are getting the value of their brand, we are also getting a lower piece price from Meritor. So we saved money, but also we are able to co-brand because of economies of scale in a production sense. We can stay competitive and pass along value to customers.”
Foss said that Meritor needed to distinguish old part numbers from new part numbers in its inventory system.
“We are adding an ‘M’ to suffix current part numbers at Meritor’s request so we can make sure they are sending us the right product,” he added. “We do not plan to increase price to dealers because our costs are going down. We are just hoping to see a spike in sales.”