Interior mirror on Kia Sportage

Interior mirror on Kia Sportage

South Korea’s SL Corporation develops and manufactures rearview mirrors, lighting systems, front-end modules and chassis parts. In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with executives of SL Corp about its mirror business.

Over the past few years, the standard rearview mirror has been transformed into a high tech hub of auto electronics. To what extent is there a trend in South Korea toward higher featured mirrors?

There are two major trends in mirror technology in South Korea. One is the addition of electronic functions in the interior rearview mirror. For example, some mass produced interior mirrors have had functions such as auto-dimming, rear camera display and electronic toll collection since 2009.

The second is the growth of adoption rates of turn signal integrated into exterior rearview mirrors.  Both low and high segment vehicle customers now expect turn signal options. We believe that the trend to add various electronic functions will continue in the South Korean market along with distinguishable functions such as integrated turn signals.

We are also seeing the mass-produced exterior rearview mirror featuring Blind Spot Detection and All Around View technologies. We predict that such features will become increasingly common and popular in South Korea.

What else can we expect to see packaged into either the exterior or interior auto-dimming rearview mirror?

Auto-dimming functionality that reduces glare from rear vehicles using electrochromic technology can add a number of functions with coating technology which has an advantage making light penetrate into glass. For example, we can show more specific information, i.e. black box display, balance of electronic toll, etc.

Rear camera display functionality is becoming popular, too. So, we can add many technologies with a display function such as compasses, navigation into interior mirrors.  Also, warning signals of blind spot detection in exterior mirrors.

The auto-dimming mirror market has shown phenomenal growth over the past decade. In volume terms, how big are you expecting this market to grow in Asia?

We think the adoption rates of auto-dimming mirrors will be popularised at least over 40% in the mid-size segments and widely applied in the low segments. Overall, we expect auto-dimming adoption rates as optional equipment in the total vehicle market will grow up to 50%.

When will it plateau?

We know some companies monopolize the auto-dimming mirror market. We can say there is a price cutting due to a competition. So, we expect option rates will increase as price falls.

After that, the market will stabilise. Thus, we see a fast growing market over the next five years or so.

While auto-dimming rearview mirrors have their obvious benefits, they are still expensive.  Are there alternative, cheaper technologies available - like, say, blue tint glass?

Blue tint glass technology is already developed. However, we think it is difficult to apply in the domestic car market since auto-dimming technology is better than blue tint glass.

Although we can’t see a day when ‘mirrorless cars’ will ever become a reality, cameras are being increasingly added to cars and using the interior mirror as a video monitor.  Could we expect to see more of this type of camera technology in emerging markets?

Some years ago, most concept cars shown at motor shows featured mirrorless cars by applying camera technology. Although there are some problems surrounding the cost and reliability of such electronic parts, cameras have advantages of losing weight, improvement of exterior air flow, increasing the degree of freedom. So, we don`t know when such camera technology could replace mirrors on the car but we expect it could be realized soon.

Could you also talk us through how you see the prospects for LED turn signals in exterior mirrors?  How do you see this market developing?  And the segments – presumably the light truck market?

For past 3 - 4 years, HKMC applied and spread LED turn signal to low segment vehicles to the point where they are now applying it to all types of vehicles.

GMK is also currently applying such LED turn signals and we have heard that it would be on mass-produced vehicles soon. In addition, carmakers are increasingly using turn signals to enhance vehicle styling. The market will continuously grow specializing in high segment vehicles.

And because various technologies in the lighting part will converge on exterior mirror turn signal, various light sources - including LED - will be developed and applied.

Also, power-folding mirrors – how is that market progressing?  Are there more in Japan where the streets are narrow and dense traffic?

South Korea also has narrow streets and dense traffic. So many customers increasingly want power-folding mirrors. Most high segment vehicles that have folding spec already exceed manual spec`s adoption rates of the option while low segment vehicle`s adoption rates of option tend to increase rapidly. We are seeing adoption rates gradually increasing worldwide because power-folding spec provides a luxurious image to customers.