China's booming auto industry has come with a price in that country: an alarming traffic fatality rate.
But that's an opportunity for U.S. airbag and safety suppliers such as TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. and Key Safety Systems to export their expertise and business to China, Chinese government officials and industry analysts said at a recent meeting in Detroit.
Chinese officials say the government wants to improve the safety rating of Chinese-made cars and reduce traffic deaths.
China recorded 100,000 traffic fatalities stemming from 570,000 accidents last year -- and wants to reduce that rate drastically, said Sun Xiaonian, director of the Consultation Center for Transportation at the China Academy of Transportation Sciences. Most traffic deaths in China involve a car and a pedestrian or bicyclist.
By contrast, the United States recorded about 38,000 fatalities on its roads in 2004.
The government is building a stricter car-safety assessment program based on those in Europe and the United States, Sun said.
That creates a chance for U.S. safety suppliers to become some of the top suppliers to Chinese automakers, said Albert King, professor and director of the Bioengineering Center at Wayne State University in Detroit.
"This provides an opportunity for U.S. suppliers to step up and sell technology to the Chinese," he said. King is a leader in automotive crash research.
That's the plan at TRW where the company is launching its antilock brake system in China and building a plant to handle the demand, said Philip Cunningham, director of product planning and business development-chassis.
TRW has 10 wholly owned and joint-venture operations in China.
"We've seen huge growth in our seat belt and airbag business, and our braking business is expanding every day," he said. "It's incredible growth, not only in the market, but in terms of our systems."
-- Crain's Detroit Business