Suppliers are preparing for big growth of tire-pressure monitoring systems in the United States, but prospects in Europe are far less certain.
Rules mandating so-called direct systems in the United States by the 2007 model year will drive that market. Europe's growth will be more market driven and split between direct and less-expensive indirect systems, says Alfonso Di Pasquale, sales manager at Schrader Electronics in Northern Ireland. Schrader supplies tire-pressure monitoring systems.
"I expect some rules in Europe, but before they're effective, it may take five years," Di Pasquale says. "But there's going to be an increase in volume in Europe. There's a lot of room for growth."
Schrader estimates the market at a total of 950,000 direct and indirect systems in Europe this year and 4 million in North America.
He says regulatory changes will push the North American market to 17 million systems by 2008. Europe is expected to reach 3 million units by 2009.
Siemens VDO's direct tire-pressure monitoring system (top) sends data from sensors in each tire to a central processor. At left is a detailed view of a Beru in-tire sensor (bottom).
French tire maker Michelin developed a partnership with TRW Automotive Inc. to make direct tire-pressure systems in the United States. The joint venture, EnTire Solutions LLC, has been building systems since 2003.
Direct systems popular
Siemens VDO Automotive in Germany supplies direct tire-pressure monitoring systems to Renault SA, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen SA, Mazda Motor Corp. and the Chrysler group.
Suppliers such as Schrader and Beru AG, another major player, also are keen on direct systems.
"The only way to get the benefits of a correctly inflated tire is to measure pressure and temperature inside the tire," says Beru Sales Manager Stephan Schneider.
Schneider doesn't think Europe will adopt the same rules as the United States.
Instead, he expects market forces to drive tire-pressure monitoring systems much like the growth of electronic-stability programs. Electronic stability is not mandated but has become a common feature in cars in Europe.
Cost plays an important part in automakers' choice. Direct systems are more accurate, but they cost more.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates the manufacturer's cost for the direct systems at $69. Suppliers say the cost to manufacturers in Europe is about $70 to $100.
But because indirect systems can use the sensors of antilock braking systems - standard equipment on all cars in Europe - costs are much lower.
The main expense is software plus the warning light and reset button in the car interior. Suppliers say the per-vehicle cost is as low as $13.
Europeans split on issue
European automakers are split on the approach to tire-pressure monitors in Europe.
Ironically, the more expensive direct systems are used by French automakers, which don't sell cars in North America.
Renault and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen are going forward with direct tire-pressure monitors. BMW AG, Audi AG, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz prefer indirect technology in Europe.
Many Mercedes, BMW and Audi models offer direct systems only as an option. It costs buyers up to $520.
Available in 2006
By 2006, indirect systems with the performance of the current direct technology will be available, says Audi spokesman Axel Catton.
"Future indirect systems will satisfy the customer more than direct systems because there are no additional costs during the lifetime of the car," Catton says. "In our opinion, only indirect systems are able to cover a mass market."
But Renault sees tire-pressure systems as essential to safety, says Laurent Gerbet, a company spokesman. Renault has developed a direct
system with Michelin. The system has a sensor in each tire to monitor pressure, temperature and acceleration.
"Most of our models are fitted with the tire-pressure monitoring system," Gerbet says. "Renault is the only automaker to have seven cars with a 5-star rating in Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) tests."
Renault offers a direct system as standard on its Laguna and Vel Satis models and as an option on Modus, Megane, Scenic, and Espace.