DETROIT — Johnson Controls Inc.'s newest automotive electronics upgrade will make it onto the streets as part of an aftermarket option months before it is available in new cars.
The tire-pressure monitoring system, housed in plastic-encased interior mirrors, will be sold through tire service centers later this month.
It is not slated to appear on automakers' new cars until later this year, as part of some vehicles' 2002-model package.
The company's Plymouth, Mich.-based auto supply unit teamed up with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. of Akron, Ohio, to begin selling the PSI mirror through Goodyear stores in Michigan in a three-month test.
"We want to see how the consumer reacts to it," said Marcia Luke-Van Dijk, electronics product marketing manager for JCI.
The company has not set any sales volume targets for the mirror system, she said.
JCI originally developed the radio-frequency-based pressure monitor for "run-flat" tire systems so that drivers could receive instant warnings of problems with tires and take them in for repairs.
Then in August, news came of problems with tread separation on Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires on Ford Motor Co. Explorers — potentially linked to low tire pressure.
Now the supplier and automakers had added incentive to get tire-pressure information into vehicles as quickly as possible.
"Once you get real-time PSI information into the car, it's going to be something that's standard information," Mike Suman, JCI group vice president for e-business and marketing, said during a Jan. 7 company briefing that was part of the North American International Auto Show 2001 in Detroit.
"That's good information to get."
The aftermarket program puts the visual readout of the sensors in a prismatic mirror — made by JCI subsupplier Metegal of Sao Paulo, Brazil — and powered by three AAA batteries. The mirror is quick and easy to replace in any vehicle, he said.
While automakers could opt to have the PSI system put anywhere in the interior, from the instrument panel to an overhead display, mirrors are the only logical place for an aftermarket sales program, Luke-Van Dijk said. It is fairly easy to replace a mirror.
"And obviously, there's a lot bigger market out there than just for run-flat [systems]," she said.
It opens a range of sales beyond the traditional auto market for suppliers and also gives a variety of suppliers access to the final customer, according to Niall Lynam, senior vice president and chief technical officer for Donnelly Corp. The Holland, Mich.-based injection molder also makes enhanced mirrors using JCI technology.
"By playing around a little bit in the aftermarket, gaining experience beyond the Big Three is healthy for the automotive suppliers," Lynam said.