DETROIT — Automotive supplier Johnson Controls Inc. and toy maker Lego Systems Inc. have formed a marriage of convenience — the convenience of children riding in vehicles and their parents listening to their complaints, that is.
The firms — giants in their respective fields — have established an alliance to create one of the auto industry's first child-activity centers.
The plastic center is injection molded from ABS. It features a stand to hold games or Lego building sets.
The center's sole function is to keep children amused while their parents keep their eyes on the road, said Karl Kalcher, managing director of Lego Lifestyle International Ltd., a Lego subsidiary in Windsor, England.
``It's an opportunity for us to be even more relevant to our customers,'' Kalcher said. ``We want to grow with our products wherever we can give children the ability to play.''
Until now, Lego of Billund, Denmark, has not worked with automakers. But with the toy company moving into clothing and amusement parks, putting Lego products into vehicles is another step to expand, Kalcher said.
After all, JCI research found that children spend about 8 percent of their waking hours inside a vehicle. Children get easily bored in a car, said Larry Fieroh, executive director of marketing and business development at JCI's automotive interiors unit in Plymouth, Mich.
``Our customers are asking us to find the best uses for usable space in a vehicle,'' Fieroh said. ``We've got a lot of options with this. Now, we need to fine-tune it.''
The companies, which made the joint announcement Jan. 4 during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, already have one prospective but unspecified carmaking customer, Fieroh said. The trademarked product, called PlaySeat, is being tested.
JCI and Lego both will make the activity centers, said Ron Bedro, JCI product manager for comfort and convenience.
The companies first talked about a partnership about 10 months ago, Fieroh said. To his knowledge, a similar rear-seat activity center has not been attempted by a carmaker, he said.
The companies have the size to launch PlaySeat. JCI's automotive business recorded about $9.3 billion in sales for the 1998 fiscal year and will supply interior products to more than 22 million vehicles.
Lego's global business extends to 30 countries and more than 50 companies. Sales for the privately held companies are estimated at more than $1.2 billion.