SUSONO, Japan -- These days, a typical luxury car is veined front to rear with miles of electrical cables. Even a compact car can have more than a mile of wire snaking through it. With the advent of connected cars, advanced safety systems and autonomous driving, demand for wiring is set to explode.
It must be a boom market for wire harness makers, right?
Yet Japanese supplier Yazaki Corp., the world's biggest maker of wire harness systems, faces a Catch-22. Yes, the coming era of increasingly electrified vehicles should spur demand for its No. 1 product. But there simply isn't room to pack in all of the extra wiring that vehicles are expected to need. So the company has to find a way to reduce the number of wires in a vehicle and their weight.
If it doesn't, someone else might -- and take away the business.
Noboru Osada, Yazaki's global director for r&d, is at the forefront of trying to use less wiring without undermining his company's top revenue stream. His efforts underscore the challenges facing all automakers as everything from windows to transmissions to trunk doors depends on electric wiring for power and communication.
"It's a big opportunity," Osada told Automotive News at the company's technical center here southwest of Tokyo, in the foothills of Mount Fuji. "But we are trying to reduce the number of wire harnesses. Otherwise, you cannot implement the wire harnesses into the car because there's no space."
Global demand for automotive wire harnesses is expected to climb 10 percent by 2020, Osada said. The bundles of metal cables carry power and transmit signals. They also generate about 90 percent of Yazaki's global sales.
Aiming to slash weight and bulk, Yazaki is turning to aluminum, rather than copper, cables. The supplier is also looking at multiplexing -- having one cable carry more than one signal at a time. Both solutions are necessary, but threaten to cut into revenue because wire harness prices are typically determined by how much metal they contain.
"For the future, we have to reduce the use of wire, but we also have to continue our business," Osada said.
Ironically for a company that has specialized in wire since 1929, Yazaki is even researching wireless networks inside the car that can allow different components of the vehicle to communicate without being tied down by cabling.
"We are investing a lot into r&d for developing secure and reliable wireless systems," Osada said. "We have to be ready with new technology."