DETROIT (Oct. 13, 2000) — Auto suppliers had accelerated development of tire pressure sensors before the Firestone tire recall, but they say a requirement to equip all vehicles within three years would outstrip current production capacity.
Current tire pressure monitors fall into two categories:
1) One system uses the wheel-speed sensors in the anti-lock brake system to detect minor differences in tire rotation. A deflating tire gets smaller, so it rotates faster. If that occurs, a warning illuminates on the instrument panel. It is relatively cheap to add this capability to ABS.
2) A more sophisticated and expensive system uses a sensor mounted inside each wheel to monitor tire pressure and transmit a signal to the vehicle´s control unit. This system provides the actual pressure reading in each tire. It is usually used with run-flat tires.
Installation of tire pressure monitors is increasing but suppliers largely don´t have high-volume deals and production in place. So several companies will benefit from any mandate.
"I don´t think that one company will be able to handle that, because the volumes will be enormous," said Eduardo Vultorius, sales manager for Beru Corp. in Novi, Mich., a subsidiary of German supplier Beru AG.
Since 1997, Beru has sold 100,000 sensor systems to BMW, Mercedes and Audi. Sales for the 2001 model year are projected to equal that three-year total.
General Motors Corp. has sold more than 1.6 million vehicles with tire-pressure monitors since 1997, most being the ABS-type. The systems are standard on 11 GM models, and the auto maker plans to expand their use.
Though some suppliers are increasing capacity, widespread production of the sensors isn´t taking place.
In January 2001, Beru will more than triple its capacity to 500,000 systems annually when a new plant opens in Bretten, Germany. TRW Inc. will make a sensor system going on four European models early next year, and Schrader-Bridgeport International Inc. also is producing sensors.
Johnson Controls Inc.´s sensor system will be available on two models in North America for 2002 using the supplier´s HomeLink electronic communications system to receive and display the tire inflation information. Johnson Controls also launches an aftermarket initiative in January; sales of 30,000 or more are expected the first year with a retail price of $350 to $400.
Even though it has sensor technology, Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. has yet to make production plans. Continental Teves and Visteon Corp. also have sensor systems but no current production deals.
Installation of the ABS monitor could come faster, suppliers say, as that technology requires only additional software programming.
It also would be a cheaper upgrade for less expensive cars—especially those that already have standard ABS.
A tire-pressure monitoring mandate also could increase standard installation of ABS, said industry forecaster Greg Janicki of CSM Worldwide Inc. of Northville, Mich.
Continental Teves has up to 12 contracts—Audi is one customer—for its ABS-based system for the 2002 model year and beyond.
Mark Sowka, vice president of electronic brake systems for Continental Teves, said that, "given the current environment, we are in discussions (with auto makers) to get it to market earlier."
Contributing to this report, which appeared in Automotive News, were staff reporters Gail Kachadourian and Robert Sherefkin.