FRANKFURT – Long known for its bright-red calipers seen on the wheels of high-end sports cars, Italian automotive supplier Brembo is looking to expand into lower vehicle segments without sacrificing its reputation as a performance-brake manufacturer.

“It’s a big debate within the company about preserving our brand,” Fabio Casablanca, global sales director-auto systems, tells WardsAuto in an interview here.

The company traditionally has supplied two performance segments – luxury vehicles and sports cars, which in addition to exotic entries from brands such as Ferrari includes the Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Viper.

But a new strategy is needed to grow its business, Casablanca says. “We have a commanding presence in the luxury segment, about 75% of the worldwide market. So we have decided to get into a lower segment, which we call premium.”

Brembo sees the segment as ripe for its goal to increase production from 100,000 “pieces” today to about 500,000 within three years. It currently provides brake components for several premium cars, including the Fiat 500, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series.

The key to maintaining its image as a high-end manufacturer is producing quality materials, Casablanca says. He notes some Brembo brake systems don’t feature the brand’s name or brightly colored calipers.

However, certain auto makers look to highlight the Brembo brand. “In one case, a manufacturer wanted to reinforce its image in Europe after a few years of neglect,” Casablanca says. “It introduced a brake system branded by Brembo to give the feeling they were up to their main competitors.”

Brembo also sees the burgeoning Chinese market as an important part of its growth strategy. The company already has a factory in Nanjing, which supplies brake components to a number of OEM joint ventures in the country.

Casablanca says Brembo’s long-term relationships with global auto makers are helping it establish a foothold in China. However, they have not led to new business with the homegrown car makers.

“We see (China) as a great opportunity and recognize there is a dichotomy between the domestic players and the JV players,” he says. “We understand to be successful in China you also have to work with domestics, and they are not as easy to penetrate.”

Brembo also is attracted to China for its low-cost labor and as a base to export its components to markets such as Korea and Japan. The company currently ships commercial-vehicle brake components made in China to Mitsubishi Fuso in Japan.

Brembo’s expertise in lightweight parts is another factor in its goal to expand. The company is a long-time supplier of brake components to race-car makers throughout the world and continues to look for ways to reduce weight.

That expertise is proving useful in today’s vehicle markets, as well. “Many OEMs in the U.S. and Europe are going into lightweight-brake components to meet (fuel-economy and emissions) regulations, and that has helped us in this strategy of growth,” Casablanca says.

Brembo employs a number of new technologies that offer lightweight brake components at a variety of price levels, he says. One method is semi-solid aluminum forming. The process, which entails heating aluminum to a semi-solid state, allows for ceramic or metal structures to be embedded into a part.

Casablanca says the technique has several advantages in addition to lower weight, including reduced noise and vibration during braking and increased stiffness due to the integrated materials.

Another technology allows for a weight-optimized brake caliper that also increases stiffness. This allows Brembo to either maintain brake performance with a smaller caliper or increase performance with a same-sized caliper.

Lightweight components are a global trend that all auto makers are looking for, says Casablanca. “For us, lightweight is in our DNA.”

bpope@wardsauto.com