Alberto de Icaza
Director General
TRW Automotive

Driving Home Automotive Safety in Mexican Market

Mon, 09/01/2014 - 09:43

As Mexico is fast becoming a hub for the production of automotive components for North America, companies like TRW Automotive (TRW), a leading supplier of automotive systems, modules, and components to OEMs, are reaping the benefits. TRW’s main focus is on occupancy safety, which is reflected in its product range of airbags, seatbelts, and steering wheels, as well as chassis, boosters, and master cylinders. The company’s Director General, Alberto de Icaza, explains that the pace of growth witnessed in Mexico has been a positive surprise, especially when comparing auto parts for the Mexican and Brazilian automotive industries. “Sales for the auto parts industry in Mexico amount to over US$80 billion yearly. In comparison, Brazil makes more cars than Mexico, but the Brazilian auto parts industry amounts to less than US$40 billion a year,” he says. Mexico’s growth has clearly been fuelled by North American demand, but even that market’s pace of growth has caught some off guard. “Growth in North America has been much faster than we expected given the remaining fallout of the 2008 financial crisis,” states de Icaza. This growth has been the fuel through which TRW has increased sales and expanded its Mexican plants to 11, counting over 14,000 employees. Currently, 100% of TRW’s North American production takes place in Mexico, but de Icaza explains that TRW now views the country as such a trusted base that it has made it a global product site for products such as callipers.

TRW understands that safety is one of the major factors affecting the consumer’s vehicle purchasing decision. As such, the company seeks to achieve the highest safety rating possible by collaborating with OEMs to develop the right products and successfully integrate them into its designs. TRW divides safety into two main categories: active and passive. The prior refers to passenger protection such as seatbelts, steering wheels, and airbags, while the latter tackles vehicle dynamics, including chassis management, brakes, steering, and suspension. Its electronics division unite these two into one safety unit. De Icaza explains how TRW has sought to keep up with the increasing sophistication required in automotive safety systems. “TRW has a wide range of airbag systems that are integrated into other safety systems like seat belts. Sensors enable the airbags to calibrate their output, based on several criteria like crash severity and occupant size. The integration of passive and active safety components into one single network has pushed the boundaries of safety in the automotive industry.”

One of TRW’s most recent innovations is the electric steering wheel that incorporates electronics to help the driver maintain control of the vehicle. De Icaza says that “the main cause of fatal accidents is when the vehicle leaves the road, so in response, TRW developed a radar system that keeps the vehicle aligned on the road.” The added advantages of this system is that it is can alert the driver if an emergency situation is imminent and detects if the vehicle is getting too close to an obstacle and activates the breaks. However, improving safety standards is no longer enough on its own as the latest innovations in the automotive sector have moved on to trends like sustainability. “All these technologies are now being made more ecologically friendly. The steering wheel no longer uses engine power while the braking system no longer needs a vacuum and no engine power is needed for that either,” adds de Icaza. “Lessening the use of the engine power lowers emission levels and helps promote a friendlier environmental brand image for our clients.” As these products enter the Mexican and global market, TRW has seen growth in its electronics division. At present, such technologies are demanded especially by luxury segments, but they are slowly beginning to spread to other vehicle segments.

“Nissan first presented these advancements with the Leaf and Mercedes-Benz did the same thing with its S-Class,” says de Icaza. “However, TRW is concerned that the fun that comes with driving may be stripped away through these innovations. The technology for automated vehicles is there, but we do not want to go too far that the enjoyment of driving is lost.” Therefore TRW has set itself the challenge of creating safer vehicles, while allowing the driver to retain full control of the driving experience. “For example, in case of an emergency, the electric steering can take over and move the vehicle, but the force is not so strong that the driver cannot also change the direction,” explains de Icaza.

As integrated safety systems expand to the whole vehicle, they are also becoming a major consideration for the consumer market worldwide. However, de Icaza believes this trend has not fully caught on in the Mexican consumer market. “It is unfortunate that the Mexican authorities are a little behind on that,” he adds. Mexico’s vehicle production is mainly for exportation so all vehicles meet the safety standards of any region, but de Icaza points out that OEMs adapt vehicles for each market. “In Mexico, you have the option to have ABS and airbags, and including safety products in a vehicle or not comes down to the decision of each buyer. Mexico’s safety protocols are similar to those in Europe because the market conditions are alike and the focus is on protecting the pedestrians. In contrast, the American market looks at protecting the vehicle and it has stricter rules regarding the protection of the occupants,” explains de Icaza