MUNICH - Audi will offer carbon ceramic brakes on its A8 upper-premium sedan starting next month. That makes Audi the fourth automaker after Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz to offer this high-performance option.
Ceramic braking discs are much lighter than regular brakes - about 5 kilograms per wheel in the Audi A8, compared with 10kg for regular metal discs. They do not rust and typically last about four times as long as conventional steel brakes. Audi claims 300,000 kilometers under standard braking conditions.
A technology inspired by the carbon brakes used in Formula One racing, composite ceramic brakes debuted on a production car in 2001 when Porsche started offering them as an option on the Porsche 911. Since 2004 the option also is available on the Boxster. Porsche charges E7,830 for the technology, which is standard on the E452,690 Carrera GT supercar.
SGL Carbon of Wiesbaden, Germany supplies the brakes to Audi and Porsche.
Italy's Brembo supplies ceramic brakes to Ferrari and Mercedes.
Ferrari introduced ceramic brakes as standard equipment on the 2002 Enzo limited edition. The technology is a E13,800 option on the F430 and is part of the E23,400 handling package available for the 575M Maranello and the 612 Scaglietti.
Brembo pioneered the technology in 1980 for the F1 racetrack. It took more than 20 years to get brakes into production models because the durability and responsiveness at low temperatures had to be improved.
The result is a better brake feel, no fade even under extremely adverse conditions, and a real-life stopping distance reduced by up to 1.5 meters when going from 100kph to zero because of the ceramic brake's quicker response.
Audi has not finalized pricing yet, but a spokesman said the company aims to significantly undercut Porsche's pricing.
The brakes will be available as an option worldwide on the top-of-the-line of the A8, those with the 450hp, 12-cylinder gasoline engine, of which Audi sold 1,850 units globally last year. An Audi source said the company is expecting an initial fitment rate of about 20 percent, or close to 400 units annually.
Audi expects that the percentage of its models with the ceramic brakes will rise sharply as soon as it manages to bring the technology into series production. The cost of the ceramic discs, which is now about 30 times as high as steel discs, could then drop to a cost three to four times as high.
Likely candidates for the technology would be Audi's high-performance RS models, the upcoming mid-engine sports car based on the Le Mans concept, as well as lower-powered A8 models. While the current ceramic brake is designed for 19-inch wheels, Audi is developing a version for smaller, 18-inch wheels.
The technology will help Audi gain a further edge over its chief competitors, as BMW doesn't offer the brakes and Mercedes only uses them on the limited-edition, 626hp SLR McLaren.
BMW spokesman Thomas Gubitz said the company still has reservations about the performance of ceramic brakes at low temperatures. He also cited the good performance of BMW's current, conventional brakes.
"It's very easy: if it's possible to reach the same (performance) numbers with a normal brake, it makes no sense to use ceramics."
SGL will receive from Audi an initial payment of E10 million-E15 million this year for developing the brakes and automating its plant in Meitingen, Germany, a company spokesman said. The plant can make 20,000 discs a year and could reach 60,000 discs annually, the spokesman said.
In January 2004, Mercedes parent DaimlerChrysler and Brembo formed a joint venture to develop and manufacture ceramic brakes for street cars.
Based in Stezzano, Italy, near Bergamo, the partners are investing E10 million in the venture, called Brembo Ceramic Brake Systems. The company aims to produce 15,000 ceramic discs by 2005, a year ahead of schedule.
The brakes are expected to go into AMG versions of future Mercedes models. AMG is the high-performance division of Mercedes.