With airbags, there is safety in numbers. And as the numbers multiply, they look awfully good for airbag makers.
Automakers such as Honda, Hyundai and Kia already are stuffing six airbags into each of their models and spending lots of money to advertise their safety advantage.
"You'd expect people like Mercedes, Audi and BMW to do it (load up cars with airbags), but now you're seeing it at the lower end of the market," said Alby Berman, director of marketing for TK Holdings Inc., the North American arm of Takata Corp. "Honda is committed to six airbags per car."
New federal side-impact regulations will mean even more installations. Carmakers and suppliers are devising different ways of meeting the standard. They're also continuing to perfect advanced front passenger airbags that will deploy more gently without injuring occupants and developing new airbags, such as thorax bags and knee bolsters.
The proliferation of airbag technology shows that safety sells. CSM Worldwide predicts that North American sales of side-curtain airbags will grow to 17 million units in 2010, up from 9.2 million airbag modules this year. This is good news for the big players in the airbag business, particularly the top three: Autoliv Inc., Takata and TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. North American airbag production was valued at $2.5 billion in 2005 and will rise to $2.8 billion in 2006, according to CSM estimates. The value is projected to rise to $4.3 billion by 2010.