Valeo mounts electronic offensive with driver-aid systems

Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany. French supplier Valeo plans to strengthen its market position with a series of driver-aid systems.

In Bietigheim-Bissingen near Stuttgart, Valeo has built a new development center for switches and sensors. The investment reflects the importance that Valeo places on selling to German automakers. Valeo has 5,300 employees at 16 facilities in Germany. Besides four technical centers, it has seven production plants and five development facilities.

"In the last six years, we have invested 100 million euros ($120.7 million at current exchange rates) in the expansion and modernization of German locations," said Martin Haub, Valeo's development chief.

Major contracts are ahead for the supplier, which had global revenue of 9.4 billion euros ($11.3 billion) in 2004. One contract is for a radar warning system that monitors passing vehicles. The system will go into production for a U.S. carmaker in 2006.

Night vision planned

Valeo has already introduced two lane-detection systems. In one version, for the Citroen C5, infrared sensors recognize lanes. The other version, for Nissan and Infiniti starting in 2006, employs a video camera to recognize lane markers.

Another promising system for Valeo is its belt-driven stop-start system, which was introduced in the Citroen C3. The gasoline engine shuts down at every stop and automatically starts again when the brake pedal is released. This is expected to lower fuel consumption in city driving by up to 10 percent.

In 2007 or later, Valeo plans to introduce a parking aid called ParkFit, which uses ultrasound sensors to measure the size of a parking space. A computer guides the car into a spot.

In 2008, Valeo expects to offer an active night-vision system, resembling the one Mercedes-Benz is offering in its new S class. Valeo's development staff is currently working intensively on a light-emitting diode (LED) lighting system.

It is testing an LED lighting system in a Volvo XC90. The system employs eight individual modules and three flat lenses to produce high-powered lighting. By the end of this year, its strength should at least match the power of high-intensity discharge headlamps.

"At first, this kind of lighting will only be introduced in Japan, due to legal restrictions," Haub said. He estimates that Germany will legalize LED lighting by 2008. Valeo expects to generate up to 950 euros ($1,100) per vehicle from driver aids alone.

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