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Brembo North America: Italian Blood, American Muscle

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Growth, Gadgets, & Wisdom

“How do you grow big but not be big,” said Dan Sandberg, Brembo North America President and CEO, leaning back in his chair, his eyes focused across the room. “That’s our challenge.”

It was an unseasonably warm winter day in Plymouth, Michigan at Bermbo’s North American headquarters. Sunlight poured in through the pristine windows overlooking the parking lot in the upper conference room.

I scratched Sandberg’s words on my note pad but had my tape recorder beside me. Earlier, Sandberg quipped I wasn’t old enough to know what a tape recorder was. We had a good laugh.

I am old enough to know cassette tapes, but more importantly, am I wise enough to know the merit of what was recorded? Sandberg’s telling of the Brembo story may well be etched on my tape recorder but what about my own heartstrings? Just as Brembo brakes instantly tame a race car, I felt the sudden halt in the room. Brembo’s three core employee values are innovation, commitment, and urgency; the latter was clear and present.

I put my pen down and looked up at Sandberg as he finished his thought on Brembo’s design.

“Are we artists or are we automotive guys, Carl? I think we are a little of both,” he said.

60 to Zero in 2.2 Seconds

It’s easy to spot Brembo brakes by their vibrant colors, but there’s much more behind the paint. Brembo’s signature comes in a fixed aluminum caliper with pistons on either side, making them lighter and more efficient than a traditional floating iron construction.

Although Brembo innovations are numerous, from carbon ceramic discs to brake-by-wire, the aluminum caliper stands unparalleled.

“The real products that put us on the map and launched our expansion were the aluminum calipers,” Sandberg said. “That novelty started on the performance side and has now moved into segments which are higher volume and obtainable by the normal consumer.” 

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Brembo purchased the brake business of Hayes Lemmerz and orchestrated three near simultaneous expansions on their Homer, Michigan facility. Being in Homer put them close to the Big Three and as automakers continually focus on more exhilarating driving dynamics, Brembo’s location and technology became ideal. When vehicles increase in power, the conclusion is often held that conventional brakes just won’t do.

“We are used to stopping 250 mph rocket ships on the race track, doing it in a small space, and being as lightweight as possible,” Sandberg said. “As a result, we have a patented technology that performs well and looks great in the ascetics of it all.”

Along with technology patents, Brembo also owns manufacturing patents, helping them produce quality products at low cost. Such patents proved vital as Homer, Michigan was called upon to meet the rising demand.

“When you look at the entire build numbers for some of the exotic cars we supply – that could be one model alone for somebody like General Motors, whereas it might be the entire production for another company,” Sandberg said. “We have a technology driven culture, especially here in Michigan, that really helps us at the Homer plant.”

Although, coming to Michigan was a half-century in the making.

From Garage to Globe

Brembo is an American story with origins in Italy over 50 years ago. Guys in a garage started making rotors of their own when they found it difficult to get brake parts. They conducted business with manufacturers in Europe but about a decade in were approached by Enzo Ferrari. He was having problems with the racing brakes on his cars and needed a solution.

“That was our first introduction into Motorsports over forty years ago and since then, we have grown the company from both the performance and the OEM side,” Sandberg said.

Talk with some of the older engineers and they will fondly recall working during the week, then racing on the weekend. That dedication formed a strong business on the racing front that still continues. Brembo is a leading brake manufacturer in Formula 1, IndyCar, MotoGP, and even NASCAR. Their track presence now translates to everyday roads where Brembo braking components are found on everything from minivans, sports cars, and mail trucks.

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