Aussie UniClutch’s Advanced Tech Aimed At U.S. Stick Shift Mod Market

A 70-year-old Australian company that builds clutches is adding two new products barely six months after entering the U.S. market for the first time. At face value, it’s a curious move by Clutch Industries at a time when consumers have all but abandoned manual transmission vehicles, which require clutches, in favor of increasingly automated cars and trucks that sometimes drive themselves.

It’s actually a perfect time, according to Clutch Industries CEO Brad Davis, who agrees overall demand and production of stick shift vehicles is low in the U.S., but, he says, demand is especially high in a certain segment.

“There’s not a lot of cars manufactured with a stick shift, but there is a huge, huge multi 100 million dollar aftermarket in the U.S. for performance clutches for people that want to have fun,” said Davis in an interview. “So from your muscle cars and even car companies like Volkswagen, now we’re bringing out the Mark 8G Golf GTI manual only in North America. Honda has now released the new Honda Civic Si only in manual only in North America. So it’s great to see the U.S. market still demanding the car companies to give them something fun to drive.”

Indeed there are only between 30 and 32 models offered with manual transmissions, according to Brian Moody, executive editor of popular auto research and buying sites Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader. The take-rate is only about 1.7%, up from 1%, Moody said, but that’s still a minuscule slice of the market.

Still, he believes UniClutch’s entry into the U.S. market addressing the performance segment makes sense.

“Cars today, their performance credentials and the power is so much higher,” observed Moody in an interview. “If you had 10-year-old clutch technology, let’s just say you look at some of the cars today that are putting out 400, 500, 600, 700 or 800 horsepower. It does make sense that you would want a solution for that so that you could keep those cars running longer.”

UniClutch’s twist on the component is it’s designed as a sealed clutch pack that can be fitted to any vehicle’s flywheel, eliminating a great deal of time and cost related to clutch replacement.

“It makes the clutch itself a single modular piece that suits pretty much every car and then we’ve got a range of fitment kits that mechanically let you connect,” explained Davis.

In addition, the ability to fit UniClutch to many different vehicles using the fitment kits means parts dealers aren’t required to stock as many different components, reducing costs and shelf space, Davis points out.

UniClutch entered the U.S. market last October with two models: UniClutch, which would replace the original clutch, and UniClutch Sport, which features 15% higher torque capacity and a sport-tuned pedal feel.

The company will introduce two additional models on March 5—UniClutch Track for racecars, and UniClutch 4Terrain, designed for 4×4 off-roading.

UniClutch Track is especially aimed at increasingly popular drift racing which is punishing to clutches requiring car owners to replace them often, said Davis. But that particular model is also targeted to a wide variety of street and track racing.

“Effectively, all those different forms of motorsport will benefit from UniClutch Track and because it’s so much cheaper, you know, when it invariably wears out, because that’s what happens,” said Davis. “It’s a faster, quicker install because they don’t have to replace that flywheel. So you’re saving a bunch of time and money.”

For now, UniClutch is available exclusively at NAPA dealers in the U.S. and starting March 5, NAPA Canada as well, according to Davis.

Despite the small number of manual transmission vehicles in the marketplace, a NAPA executive says partnering with UniClutch as its exclusive U.S. distributor was an easy decision.

“The adaptable design of the clutch system can fit a multitude of vehicles, which simplifies inventory management, speeds up clutch replacement time, and reduces common installation problems – that’s a win-win for the aftermarket as it has notable benefits for automotive technicians, parts distributors and consumers alike,” said Danny Huffaker, senior vice president, category management at NAPA in emailed remarks.

It may have taken UniClutch 70 years to try its luck in the U.S. but Davis is confident, that leap across the Pacific is a, well, clutch move, declaring, “It’s just a great market to be in. It’s massive, massive. It’s a more than $500 million market performance clutch market in America. So I mean, a small piece of that very big pie is absolutely worth getting into.”

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