Kim Hagar often feels uncomfortable in the driver's seat.
As a 5-foot-tall woman, she must move the seat far forward so she can reach the pedals. 'I don't like being so close to the airbag,' she says.
So when her husband, John, bought a 1999 Ford Expedition, he made sure it included the adjustable pedal option.
The system, built by the Teleflex Automotive Group, involves a brake/accelerator assembly that can be moved three inches with the press of a button. It allows drivers like Kim Hagar to sit farther from the steering wheel, reducing the risk of injury from an inflating airbag.
John Hagar, general manager at Jerome-Duncan Ford in Sterling Heights, Mich., is seeing the $120 option ordered more and more. 'There's been a fantastic response on it,' he said. His dealership now orders it for every Expedition it keeps in stock. And later this year, Ford Motor Co. will add the pedal to the Windstar minivan and Taurus/Sable sedans. After that, the Explorer/Mountaineer sport-utilities.
The increased demand has Teleflex hopping. Last month, it bought a 110,000-square-foot plant in Kendallville, Ind., to help it keep pace with orders. The company built 30,000 units in 1998. This year, it expects to build 250,000.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Comcorp Technologies Inc. of Warren, Mich., began work on the adjustable pedals in 1988, before airbags were universal. When Teleflex bought the company two years ago, airbags were at the center of a controversy over the damage they can cause to people who sit too close to them.
Teleflex President George Hofman said Teleflex bought Comcorp because of its work with throttle controls and adjustable pedals.
'The timing was right,' said Hofman, who has led Teleflex for seven years. 'With the airbag issue, it made adjustable pedals a much more desirable product.
'With electronic throttle control, the future was more certain,' said Hofman, 46. 'But with adjustable pedals, there were no commercial programs. So that was really more of a gamble.'
The gamble has paid off.
In addition to the expanded Ford business, Teleflex also produces prototypes for another automaker's 2002 models. Teleflex expects to build 2 million units a year by 2003.
The pedal assembly is made at Teleflex's Warren, Mich., plant. Production in Kendallville is scheduled to start late this summer. The Warren plant will continue to provide stampings and subassemblies for the adjustable pedals.
CONVENIENT FOR OTHERS
According to Hofman, Teleflex is the No. 1 North American supplier of mechanical cable controls. The company, based in Troy, Mich., has 14 manufacturing facilities in North America and Europe and annual sales over $400 million.
The automotive group is part of Teleflex Inc., a Philadelphia-based manufacturer that also makes marine, medical and aerospace products. The firm had $1.6 billion in sales last year.
Comcorp was just one of several recent automotive acquisitions. In December 1997, Teleflex picked up United Parts Group N.V., a Belgian gearshift supplier, for $88 million.
Adjustable pedals are not just popular with shorter drivers. Darla Raines of Peachtree City, Ga., is 5 feet 7 inches tall, so she is not worried about airbags. But she said she loves the convenience of not having to adjust the mirrors and seat after her husband has been driving.
Teleflex owes its current success to customers like Raines.
Said Hofman: 'Right now customers are willing to pay for solid comfort.'