When it comes to new mirror technologies, Gentex CEO Steve Downing wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
Gentex, the world's top supplier of auto-dimming mirrors, is counting on untapped Asian markets to fuel growing sales of its core mirror product, which generates half of the company's revenues.
But Gentex is also marketing potentially hot new products, such as a digital rearview display, which uses rear-facing cameras to eliminate a motorist's blind spots.
In theory, these digital displays will someday eliminate the need for side mirrors. But Downing, 40, is betting that won't happen.
"The thesis is that mirrors are dead," said Downing, who was named CEO of the Zeeland, Mich., company in January. "The irony is that our shipments continue to increase. In lower-cost markets such as China there is tremendous interest in electrochromic mirrors."
So Downing is attempting a technology straddle: marketing rearview and side mirrors that can also display video images.
Gentex has been showcasing a side mirror that also houses a rear-facing camera. Motorists can use the side mirrors in traditional fashion, or they can view a digital image — stitched together from three rear-facing video cameras — in the center mirror.
"We think it's better to offer a hybrid solution that allows motorists to decide whether they want to turn it on or off," Downing said. "If something goes wrong with the cameras, you always have your mirror."